In a sign that eurosceptic sentiment is spreading across the Continent, it has been announced that 261,159 Austrians beat the 1 July deadline to sign a petition supporting a referendum on whether Austria should leave the EU.
This means the threshold of 100,000 signatures needed to call a debate in parliament was passed and the question of a referendum must now be discussed.
The Local reports the petition was initiated last year by 66-year-old retired translator Inge Rauscher, a long-standing opponent of the EU, and her non-partisan Heimat & Umwelt committee (Homeland and Environment). Her fellow signatories argue Austria would be better off out – economically, socially and environmentally – and that the EU is essentially undemocratic with laws created by unelected commissioners.
Arguing for a return to a “neutral and peace-loving Austria”, Rauscher also believes withdrawal would result in welfare gains of up to €9,800 per household per year, as funds currently used to fund the EU administration are freed for use elsewhere.
This marks Rauscher’s second attempt at initiating a referendum debate, having launched a similar petition in 2000. On that occasion her attempt to force the issue onto the parliamentary timetable failed because of a lack of signatures.
Hailing the “great result” Rauscher said she believes there was more support for a referendum this time due to the economic downturn and the ongoing Greek crisis.
Although the success of this petition signals a shift in national opinion since 2000, recent polls say only about a third of Austrians would favour leaving the EU. Nevertheless it does suggest a yet wider Eurosceptic movement across Europe, with strong anti-EU political parties now gaining traction in the UK, France, Germany and, unsurprisingly, Greece.