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Making off: Direct Democracy in Austria

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Erwin Mayer (left) campaigning for direct democracy

Making off: Direct Democracy in Austria


On 11 March 2015 civil society activists met with politicians and government representatives in the Austrian parliament to discuss how to improve direct democracy in Austria. The debate was the fourth session of the inquiry commission (“Enquete Kommission”), established with the aim of strengthening direct democracy in the Alpine nation. Democracy International’s partner organisation mehr demokratie! Austria demands a three-step procedure of citizens’ direct legislation and a representative survey on the rules of direct democracy.

According to mehr demokratie!, a citizen-initiated law proposal is to be backed by 10.000 signatures in order to be submitted to parliament. Then a fully-fledged law proposal is to be drafted. This piece of legislation needs the support of 100.000 citizens. In case parliament refuses to adopt this law proposal, a binding referendum is to take place.

This three-step model of direct democracy strongly differs from the proposals by political parties and governmental representatives that demand much higher amounts of signatures (640.000 signatures = 10 per cent of Austria’s eligible citizens for simple legislation and 960.000 signatures for constitutional legislation). Also, referenda should only be valid when 30 – 50 per cent of eligible citizens participate in the vote. In contrast, the model by mehr demokratie! does not foresee any turnout or approval quorums. Yet, strict standards of human rights are to control whether a citizens’ initiative is admissible or not.

Erwin Mayer, chairperson of mehr demokratie! and board member of Democracy International, spoke at the session that took place in the Austrian parliament. He demanded to conduct a representative survey in order to ask the Austrian people which rules of direct democracy they prefer. “In the end, the people are the sovereign. Therefore, not politicians but citizens are to decide about direct democracy’s actual design”, so Erwin Mayer.
Two more sessions of the “Enquete Kommission” are due to take place. The last one is scheduled for 2nd June 2015.  

More Information:

- Website by Austrian Parliament on the inquiry commission on direct democracy (in DE)

- Website by mehr demokratie! Austria (in DE)

Text by Cora Pfafferott




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