Austria: After Brexit and Grexit, could Auxit be next?
Emmanuel Sigalas, Associate Research Fellow of the Institute of International Relations Prague is the author of a contribution to "European views on the UK’s renegotiation: Ireland, Portugal, Austria and Croatia", analysis published at EUROPP – European Politics and Policy - a multidisciplinary academic blog run by the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Austria’s media and consequently its public has paid much more attention to the consequences of a potential Grexit than to the consequences of a Brexit or Britain’s attempt at a renegotiation of its EU membership. Whilst Austria is a Eurozone member and it is therefore only natural to be interested in the fate of the euro and Greece, the relatively limited public interest in the prospect of the UK leaving the EU is worrying.
Most references to a Brexit or renegotiation have thus far been linked to the implications for Britain, instead of for Austria or for the EU as a whole. The underlying premise is that Britain’s problems with the EU are a British problem and the British government and people should deal with them. The coming Brexit referendum has already strengthened the Eurosceptic camp in Austria, and a renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership terms or an exit from the EU will reinforce them even more.
A petition in Austria demanding an ‘Auxit’ referendum succeeded in collecting as many as 261,159 signatures (4.12 per cent of the electorate) in only one week (the week beginning 24 June 2015). This may not be a huge number, but compared to a similar petition in 2000 the current petition scored 67,258 signatures more and surprised many. Furthermore, the formal threshold of 100,000 signatures was crossed, which means that the Austrian parliament is obliged to discuss the matter in a plenary session.
The petition outcome is not binding. Given that it was not organised or supported by a particular political party, the likelihood that the parliament will adopt the call for a referendum is essentially nil. Nevertheless, this is yet another indication that Euroscepticism in Austria is growing not only in public opinion polls, but also in terms of actual political power.
A successful Brexit would be butter on the bread of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). The latter is not demanding a complete withdrawal from the EU, but its current leader (H. C. Strache) is inspired by David Cameron’s stance and is supporting the idea of a re-negotiation of Austria’s memberships terms. Other parties in Austria therefore view the idea of a UK renegotiation of its membership with some trepidation, seeing in it the opening of a Pandora’s box of problems that could fuel support in Austria for a similar deal or Auxit.
The prospects of Brexit, Grexit and even Auxit, in addition to comparable developments elsewhere in Europe (e.g. Iceland revoking its EU membership application, or Switzerland restricting the number of EU citizens in its territory), can be interpreted as a sign of the declining attractiveness of EU membership. Austria may be still a long way from formally turning its back to the EU, but it seems that the UK’s push for a renegotiation and forthcoming in/out referendum have helped Austria take a small step in that direction. More are likely to follow if Britain’s threat to abandon the EU bears fruit.
About the author: Dr Emmanuel Sigalas is Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague and at the Vienna Institute for Advanced Studies