Austria divided over idea of EU army

Opinion remains divided in Austria about whether its neutrality would be jeopardised by its army's involvement in joint cooperation. [7th Army Training/ Flickr]

The idea of creating a powerful EU army continues to divide opinion in neutral Austria. Critics of the plan say its neutrality is incompatible with joint military cooperation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Austria is firmly in election mode, with a vote scheduled for October, and former coalition partners the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and Socialist Party (SPÖ) are struggling to agree on anything, including issues like education reform.

The EU is pushing on with plans for common defence and security, following an announcement of nearly €40 billion funding for military capabilities. But Austria’s parties are also failing to find common ground on this divisive issue, despite the country’s traditional opposition to military involvement.

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Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil (SPÖ), who has been working on rebuilding the cash-strapped Austrian army, has spoken out against the creation of an EU army and his country’s participation in it.

Doskozil has continually cited Austria’s neutral status as a reason why the alpine republic wouldn’t be allowed to join such a force. He has also pointed out that there are five neutral countries in the European Union, which would stand in the way of any joint decisions.

Austria’s whole concept of neutrality has been somewhat of a sacred cow since it was enacted in 1955. It is made all the more complex by the election campaign, where the main parties will be wary about upsetting their voter base with harsh truths about Europe’s current defence situation.

The ÖVP’s stance is controversial in this regard. The party’s head of delegation in the European Parliament, Othmar Karas, is on the same page as Brussels: “Given the latest unpredictability of the United States, it is clear that the EU cannot afford any further delay in taking its security and defence into its own hands.”

Karas insists that closer cooperation on defence does not jeopardise Austria’s neutrality. He also pointed out the economic advantages of joint work on military procurement, which could save up to €100 billion a year across the EU.

Vienna’s current problems involving Eurofighter, for example, would have been avoided if joint procurement had already been in place.

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