Austrian MPs approve EU Treaty amid protests

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The lower House of the Austrian Parliament voted on Wednesday (9 April) to approve the Lisbon Treaty, rejecting calls from two minority far-right groups to hold a referendum on the matter.

The treaty was approved by the lower House of Parliament on Wednesday (9 April) by a wide coalition of Social Democrats, Conservatives and the opposition Green Party. 

The vote took place despite the opposition of two minority far-right groups – the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Federal Future Party of Austria (BZÖ) – which called for a referendum to be held on the issue. About 1,500 protesters from the “Save Austria” movement took the streets of Vienna on Tuesday, handing in a petition signed by over 100,000 people to demand a referendum.

The eight-hour Parliamentary debate was colourful, the German news agency DPA reported, with opposition deputies waving Austrian football scarves as a sign of protest. But ultimately, the treaty was easily approved by a sweeping majority of 151 votes to 28.

The eurosceptic current runs deep in Austria although it is now confined to a minority in Parliament following the 2006 elections, won by the Social Democrat (SPÖ) party of Alfred Gusenbauer. The election dealt a blow to the Conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) of Wolfgang Schüssel, who had ruled for the previous six years with the far-right FPÖ. But the ÖVP managed to return to power by entering a coalition government headed by Gusenbauer in January 2007 (EURACTIV 9/01/07).

Austria created EU history when the far-right FPÖ leader, Jörg Haider, entered the government after winning a landslide victory in the 1999 general election. EU heads of states panicked and isolated Vienna diplomatically, threatening to use the Article 7 of the Nice Treaty which allows EU member states, voting by a qualified majority, to suspend the rights of a country in case of “a serious and persistent breach of fundamental rights” (EURACTIV 11/01/06).

Under pressure, Haider stepped down as the party chairman in 2000, forming the new BZÖ party and bringing an end to Austria’s diplomatic isolation.

Ireland is the only country now certain to hold a referendum, which could take place on 12 June. Other countries have opted to let their Parliament decide on the issue.

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