Universal income and vaccinations: What’s at stake in Austria’s petition week?

Austrian citizens will have a chance to sign petitions on vaccination, corruption, and unemployment benefits until Monday, the 9th.

vote ballot petition
Austrians can vote on seven petitions over the course of the week (Photo by Arnaud Jaegers on Unsplash)

From Monday, 2nd to Monday, 9th, Austrian citizens can register for seven referendums either online or in the approximately 2,000 venues over the country.

The seven referendums are called: “Rule of Law & Anti-Corruption People’s Requests”, “Unemployment Benefit Up!”, “No to Compulsory Vaccination”, “Implement Unconditional Basic Income!”, “Compulsory Vaccination: Respect the No!”, “Stop Live Animal Transport Quale”, and “Mental Health Youth People’s Request” and bring proposals on issues from compulsory vaccination to mental health and corruption. 

Petitions are brought to the Austrian population by civil representatives on matters regulated by federal law, according to the Interior Ministry

There are several criteria they must meet, including an introduction procedure with the collection of more than 8,400 signatures and the payment of a “cost contribution” of €559.40 to an account of the Ministry – a later amount of more than € 2,500 is made if the petition is accepted. 

The petition will be sent to the Central Electoral Register if the registration is accepted. Once it collects at least 100,000 signatures, the Austrian Parliament must treat the matter.

Who gets to sign the petitions?

Only people who have a right to vote for the National Council, Austria’s parliamentary house, are allowed to sign the petitions. That means they must be Austrian citizens, over 16 years old, registered as voters, and not excluded from the right to vote. 

The voting can either be in person or online, using the government’s authentication app (Handy Signatur or citizen card). This means that Austrians abroad can also sign online. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

It is worth noting that foreigners, despite having the official authentication app, will not be able to sign any of the petitions. 

What are the main issues debated? 

The anti-corruption petition is currently one of the most popular on the list, according to broadcaster ORF.

It was formulated by a group of prominent lawyers and politicians who sent suggestions on strengthening the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Austria.

The text calls for constitutional and federal reforms to bring “comprehensive anti-corruption and transparency legislation” and promote freedom of the press. 

READ ALSO: Austria swears in third chancellor in three months

Two petitions deal with the matter of vaccination. The “NO to compulsory vaccination” is “against any kind of compulsory vaccination, especially for minor children”, according to the justification for the petition. It also stated that the state wanted to “force the people to participate in a genetic engineering experiment”, claiming that the efficacy of the Covid vaccinations is “doubtful”.

Several studies, however, have shown that vaccines work and are safe.

A second petition, called “Compulsory Vaccination: Respect the No!” asks the federal government to remove the vaccine mandate based on “the will of the people”. 

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

Another set of proposals deals with more social issues. One wants the National Council to approve the Unemployment Insurance Act, increasing emergency aid to the unemployed. There are also petitions asking for signatures in defence of a universal basic income – a concept that defends a minimum payment to all people regardless of professional status. 

Two other petitions ask for the end of live animal transport and measures for young people’s mental health.

When will results be announced, and what will they mean?

Preliminary results of the voting will be announced on the Ministry website already on the evening of May 9th. 

The petitions that receive more than 100,000 signatures need to be discussed in Parliament, so there will be a broad public debate on many of these matters.

However, that does not mean that Austrian politicians are obligated to vote in favour of these measures – even if they get hundreds of thousands of signatures and a long debate in parliament. 

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Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has hit out at Austria's naturalisation process, saying "the hurdles are too high". But how hard is it to get Austrian citizenship - and will the criticism lead to change?

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Austria’s federal president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is eyeing a second term in office in the autumn elections, has said that the hurdles for citizenship are too high in the alpine country.

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high.”, he said in an interview with the newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

Van der Bellen mentioned a case with a German citizen who has lived in Austria for 20 years and cannot obtain dual citizenship: “He can vote neither here nor there. And that is the European Union?”

Austria does not allow for dual citizenship of naturalised citizens except in very few cases (including naturalisation of those who are descendants of Holocaust victims).

This is one of the many hurdles to citizenship in the country.

What makes Austrian citizenship so difficult to get?

Citizenship through naturalisation, meaning you are not the son or daughter of an Austrian citizen, is particularly hard to get.

First of all, the majority of applicants will need to give up any other citizenships they hold. So, a British citizen taking Austrian nationality through marriage or residence time will have to give up their British passport.

READ ALSO: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Besides severing that connection to a home country where people might still have many ties, this can lead to difficulties in matters of inheritance and property ownership, for example.

The naturalisation process is also long and expensive in Austria. In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from € 1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The length of the process varies, but it can take more than a year for citizenship to be awarded.

The requirements will also be different depending on how long the person is legally an Austrian resident and what is their connection to the country.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

For example, after 30 years of residence in Austria, you need to prove you are not a danger to the country and that you can support yourself.

You also need to prove German skills and pass a citizenship test.

The minimum amount of time of legal residency after which you can require citizenship is six years for people who fall into specific categories, such as legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and possession of the citizenship of an EEA state, birth in Austria or German at a B2 level.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

It is improbable that there will be any significant changes soon. Despite Van der Bellen’s statements, citizenship laws are not within the federal president’s competence and mostly depend on legislative changes.

The party leading the ruling coalition, ÖVP, is against any changes, claiming that making the process easier would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation doubled in 2022 – and who are Austria’s new citizens?

Austria has recently seen a jump in naturalisation numbers, but that can largely be viewed as a one-off phenomenon after changes in the process for descendants of Nazi victims.

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.