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Austrians disillusioned with EU austerity

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Austrians disillusioned with EU austerity
EU election banner in Vienna. Photo: APA
15:51 CEST+02:00
Austrians are not expected to turn out in record numbers for this month's European Parliament elections, even though the 2014 ballot is billed as the most important yet.

The main reason for this apparent apathy seems to be a disillusionment with austerity and the eurozone crisis.

Johannes Pollak, Professor of Political Science at Webster Vienna Private University and Head of Political Science at Vienna’s Institute for Advanced Studies told The Local that Austrians tend to be euro-sceptic - and are only surpassed in this by the UK.

“There has been an average turnout in previous EP elections but this time I expect a further decline,” he said.

Austria has 18 seats in the European Parliament, and there are more parties competing than in previous years.  

Austria is also the only country where people can vote from the age of 16, although Pollak is unsure if this means that young people will be more inclined to vote. However, he would urge them to do so:

“The European Parliament is now stronger than many national parliaments - nothing goes against it, and as voters we should realise that the European Parliament today is a serious co-legislator - nothing happens in the European Union without the EP agreeing to it,” he said. 

"Compared to some national parliaments, eg the French Assemblé Nationale, since the Treaty of Lisbon the European Parliament occupies a very strong position in the supranational policy-making process.” 

"And since democracy means that we are only subjected to laws we authored ourselves or via our elected representatives, casting the ballot in the EP election is nowadays of utmost importance," he added. 

According to Pollak Austria has really benefited from the opening up of Eastern Europe and it will continue to benefit as Balkans countries begin to join the EU.

And Austria could continue to benefit from EU policies. “Austria is a centre for gas and energy companies, so if the EU eventually has a joint energy policy that would also be a boon for Austria,” Pollak added.

Austrian voters tend to perceive national elections as being more important - but that’s because the government and the media don’t inform them properly, Pollak counters.

The parties Austria will be electing next week are not the ones you will see in the European Parliament, and many of the candidates are competing on national issues and topics.

Many fear that Austria will see plenty of protest votes for right wing parties, because of the current disillusionment with the economic situation. Pollak expects there will be a strong turn out for the FPÖ party. 

"They’ve been campaigning with messages like ‘Too much EU is not good for you’. But so far right-wing populist parties had problems to form a faction in the EP mainly because their message is a nationalistic one and runs logically counter to cross-national cooperation.

Luckily the Conservatives and Social Democrats will always have a kind of coalition who will marginalise extremist groups,” he said.

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