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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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POLITICS

Austria’s Nehammer formally elected party leader in unanimous vote

The Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer was formally elected leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on Saturday.

Austria's Nehammer formally elected party leader in unanimous vote

The ÖVP has governed at the federal level in an alliance with the Greens since early 2020 and, at a special federal party conference on Saturday, 100 percent of the delegates voted for the Austrian Chancellor (who has been in office for just over five months now) to be their leader.

READ ALSO: PROFILE: Who is Karl Nehammer, Austria’s new chancellor?

Nehammer’s predecessor Sebastian Kurz had resigned as Chancellor and ÖVP chairman in October 2021 following investigations into suspected corruption. Since then, Nehammer had held the party chairmanship on an interim basis. 

Sebastian Kurz has since completely retired from politics and now works for American investor and billionaire Peter Thiel, who has close ties to former US President Donald Trump.

Prior to the vote, Nehammer gave a speech promoting his election as party chairman: “We are the first servants of this country, and with your help, I will also become the federal party chairman of the People’s Party,” he said.

The heads of the ÖVP traditionally tend to get high results in their first election as chairman. Kurz was elected party leader in 2017 with 98.7 percent of the vote. However, there has never been a 100 percent result in a first-time election until now.

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