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Austria: Popular Vote Retains Military Conscription

(Feb. 5, 2013) On January 20, 2013, Austrians voted on whether to retain military conscription or establish a paid career army instead. With 59.7% of the voters upholding the current system and a voter participation of close to 52%, the voters strongly rejected the abolition of a conscripted army. (Bundesministerium für Inneres, Volksbefragung 2013 (last visited Feb. 4, 2013).) Although the vote was not a referendum as foreseen in the Constitution (Bundesverfassung (B-VG) (Federal Constitution), art. 42, translation available at RECHTSINFORMATIONSSYSTEM (2013) and therefore had no binding effect, the major parliamentary parties had promised that they would abide by the decision. (Helmut Kramer, Das wird keine Reifeprüfung, DIE PRESSE, Jan. 19, 2013, at 28.)

In <?Austria, military service is compulsory for men (BV-G,art. 9a). When men reach the age of 18 they are conscripted to a six-month tour of training and service in the Austrian Army, and they can be recalled for duty if needed up to the age of 50, with the recall for officers and certain special forces extending to the age of 65 (Wehrgesetz 2001 (WehrG) [Defense Act], BUNDESGESETZBLATT (BGBl) No. 2001/I/ 146, as amended, §§ 9, 10). Conscientious objectors have the option of serving for nine months in the alternative civilian service. (Zivildienstgesetz 1986 [Alternative Civil Service Act] (ZDG), Dec. 11, 1986, BGBl. No. 1986/679, as amended, § 1.)

In addition to defending the country militarily, the Austrian Army also assists in emergencies and disaster relief, and it participates in international peace-keeping missions and humanitarian aid projects (WehrG § 2). The men serving in the alternative civil service provide various forms of assistance in health and social services (ZDG § 2a).

Austria’s decision to retain a conscripted army comes at a time when many European countries are in the process of changing to a paid, career army or have already done so. Among them are Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. (Melissa Eddy, Austrians Appear to Reject Changes toConscript Army, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Jan. 20, 2013).)