November 23, 2017

What does the Brexit mean to Austria?

Auxit or Oexit? It really doesn’t matter which term you use to label the Austrian equivalent of Brexit, it now seems that it is more than a distinct possibility that Austria will follow the lead of Britain and decide to have a public vote on whether or not to remain in the EU.

The result of the Brexit ballot has sent shock waves across Europe and indeed the world. Its effects are likely to be felt for many years to come, but one immediate effect is that other EU nations are now focused on whether they want to follow Britain out of the EU. Euroscepticism seems to be gaining momentum in many European countries. Austria is seen as the country most likely to follow Britain’s lead and call for a public vote.

There are strong indications that Austria may be the next ones to follow Britain’s lead and vote to leave the EU. Recent polls (which were taken before the British decision was known) indicate that 40% of the pupation of Austria may want to leave the EU.

Will Austria follow Britain’s lead and demand a public vote on the issue of EU membership? It is certainly a tumultuous time in Austria politics, quite apart from the Brexit issue. It has now been confirmed that the May election will be re-run after the challenge by the right wing Freedom Party was upheld. There were allegations of improper handling of postal votes, and that children and foreign nationals had been allowed to vote in the election.

In the now overturned election Alexander Van der Bellen, the former leader of the Green Party, had claimed victory with 50.3% of the vote, but the validity of the election was immediately called into question by his opponent Norbert Hofer.  With a new election due to be held t is highly possible that Hofer of the anti-immigration Freedom Party will be declared as the first far right leader in any EU country.

What would it mean for Austria in terms of their EU status if Hofer becomes President? He has made it clear that he believes that Austria should vote on whether to leave or remain if the EU continues to move towards more centralization of control over member states, and does not function for its original purpose as an economic and trade alliance.

Hofer has also said that there must be a public vote on any decision to remain in the EU if Turkey are granted admission to the Union.  He said: “I believe that people are able to learn, that political structures are able to develop, and that Austria will contribute to making Europe better.

“There is one exception, however, that is if the EU decides to let Turkey join the Union. Austrians will have to be asked whether they want this.”

Clearly the result of the Presidential elections will have a huge influence upon any decision about whether or not Austria should hold a Brexit style referendum and ask its citizens whether or not they wish to remain part of the EU.  However, the President of Austria does not have the power to order a public vote unilaterally. It would require more than the will of one person to force a public vote on EU membership.

There is of course the question of whether or not the Austrian people would actually support a move to leave the EU. Recent history shows that this is impossible to predict.  It was widely thought that Britain would vote to remain, and the result was a shock to many. What Brexit has given the rest of Europe is a sense of confidence to those in power who wish to promote Euroscepticism.

Brexit did not at first seem to have popular appeal. However, what happened in Britain could be seen as an ideal Eurosceptic model of what can be achieved. What was once, and not so long ago, unthinkable, has become a stark reality for Britain. It is certainly a possibility that it could become reality for Austria too. Sometimes the unexpected does happen.

Those who seek to use their political power to further the Eurosceptic cause will perhaps sit back and watch the consequences for Britain over the next weeks and months. The Brexit decision has proved to have severe immediate consequences for both the British economy and the political arena. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron has resigned. He has said that he will not set into motion the exit provisions of Treaty 50 – this will be left up to his successor. With it not even certain that any British leader will actually push the button and start the exit process, there will be uncertainty for many months and perhaps years ahead.

Only time will tell if the decision spells economic disaster for Britain, or whether it will quickly recover from the immediate economic consequences. Britain put itself in the position of a testing ground for other member states who may be thinking of leaving the EU. Perhaps Austria will learn from Britains experience, whatever that may turn out to be.

In the immediate aftermath of the decision there is a great deal of confusion about when, how and even if Britain will leave. This seems to be causing panic and economic stagnation. Only time will tell if this is just a shock reaction or whether this will cause more lasting economic pain for Britain. The Eurosceptic movement across Europe and in Austria would surely have a more difficult task in persuading their people to leave if the consequences for Britain prove to be economically devastating in the months and years ahead.

 

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