Is democracy expensive

Expansion of direct democracy can cost the republic dearly

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Vienna - The expansion of direct democracy could cost the republic dearly: As reported, there is still "dissent" between turquoise and blue, as coalition negotiator Gernot Blümel (ÖVP) admitted on Thursday. Postscript: "Bringing about a complete system change cannot be done overnight."

What is the concrete issue: The FPÖ would like that in the future, referendums that are supported by more than four percent of the citizens, lead to a referendum. The ÖVP, on the other hand, only wants to hold such a referendum with an agreement of ten percent, which - after a participation quorum still to be negotiated - would be binding.

Such an amendment to the constitution is not only considered highly controversial among lawyers for reasons of democratic politics; most recently the SPÖ and Neos also declared that a corresponding law that requires a two-thirds majority in the National Council will certainly not simply be passed.

Important empirical values

Hubert Sickinger, expert on party financing, also points out in the STANDARD conversation that the costs for the registration week of a referendum and the costs for holding a referendum are "certainly not cheaper than those for holding a National Council election". In addition, the political scientist refers to one of two referendums that have taken place in Austria so far - namely the one on joining the EU in 1994, before which the then red-black government also invested in a multi-million dollar pro-PR campaign.

The figures from the past prove Sickinger right: Experience has shown that an election to the National Council costs the republic between ten and fifteen million euros, including the cost of printing the ballot papers or the postal vote, plus the reimbursement of costs for the communities . The 2013 referendum on compulsory military service, which is the only nationwide survey to date, resulted in similar amounts - and such sums should also be expected in future referendums. A referendum, on the other hand, usually costs around two million.

According to the new mode envisaged by the ÖVP and FPÖ, Austria would receive at least twelve million and up to seventeen million in costs per referendum (ie with a previous successful referendum) - various campaigns by parties, which the taxpayers co-financed, not even included.

Brexit as a bad example

Constitutional lawyer Theo Öhlinger, who speaks out against such a careless initiation of sometimes momentous referendums, says: "To think of something like this for Austria after the Brexit referendum, I think it is extremely problematic and questionable." Because the vote in Great Britain to leave the EU in the previous year had shown in by-election analyzes that citizens sometimes did not adequately deal with the "pros and cons" of the highly complex matter before casting their vote - and that politicians sometimes tend to ask simple questions, "because these are popular".

In the much-vaunted Switzerland, on the other hand, Öhlinger explains, the government is obliged to deliver a neutrally written information brochure to every household before voting - and that is "difficult to imagine from the Austrian government" for him.

And apparently not just for him: According to reports, former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who is supposed to be at the side of the ÖVP chairman Sebastian Kurz in an advisory capacity, should not be amused at all that the soon-to-be-Chancellor may be making concessions to the liberals in this delicate matter. (Nina Weißensteiner, November 30, 2017)