Austrian petition calls for Vienna to hold referendum on EU trade deals

Chancellor Christian Kern will have to decide what course to take next. [SPÖ/ Flickr]

An Austrian petition launched by opponents of a number of EU trade deals has exceeded the number of signatures needed to guarantee it is debated in parliament. The petition calls on Austria’s leaders to hold a referendum on the agreements. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Austrian citizens had a week to sign a petition that is opposed to the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU-Canada deal (CETA) and the forthcoming Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). It needed 100,000 supporters to be looked at by parliament: it smashed that requirement and got 562,552.

Although with only 8.8% of the population signing, this petition is not one of Austria’s top ten most signed of all time, its organisers celebrated the result anyway and now want to exert more pressure on politicians and the government. Greenpeace Austria has already called Vienna’s lawmakers to convene a summit on EU trade policy.

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Little support can be expected from new President Alexander Van der Bellen. Although being sympathetic towards the cause on the election trail, the CETA train has well and truly left the station now and the government has made no mention of it in its new programme.

TTIP might be a different case, which looks more than likely to be shelved thanks to US President Donald Trump’s latest proclamations. But a debate will soon be held in the Austrian parliament about a potential referendum and free trade agreements in general.

Chancellor Christian Kern, who originally toyed with the idea of jumping on the CETA bandwagon with other Social Democratic Party members that support the idea of a referendum, has remained silent so far.

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That is in stark contrast to its coalition partner, the People’s Party (ÖVP), which has accused the referendum’s supporters of misleading Austrian citizens and playing to their fears.

The ÖVP claims that all of Austria’s and the European Parliament’s demands have been taken into account in the CETA deal. Water supply has been excluded and European protection standards for workers and the environment have been safeguarded and suggesting otherwise constitutes wilfully spreading misinformation, the party has claimed.

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