Austria votes in favor of retaining conscription | News | DW | 20.01.2013
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Austria votes in favor of retaining conscription

Austrian's have voted by a large margin to retain their conscript system. The country will therefore remain one of the few European Union members with mandatory military service.

In a referendum, 60 percent voted in favor of the current mandatory military service while 40 percent voted for a professional military, according to public broadcaster ORF based on 59 percent of ballots cast.

Many countries in Europe have done away with the draft, including France in 1996 and Germany in 2011. Other than Austria, European countries with conscription include Cyprus, Estonia, Finland and Greece.

Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos, of the center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), had called the draft outdated in an era of counterterrorism and cybercrime. "The nature of the threat has changed,” Darabos said. “That's why a transformation is necessary."

Currently, about 22,000 men older than 18 are drafted into six months of service annually.

Draft advocates had said it would be tough to attract a 55,000-strong all-volunteer army.

They also feared the expense of creating a professional army. Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, of the right-wing People's Party (ÖVP), called the idea a "2-billion-euro ($2.7 billion) castle in the sky."

And, the army's chief of staff, General Edmund Entacher, had warned that a professional military would lead "irreversibly to a drop in quality, numbers and ability."

Others argued that a reduced military would prove too small to adequately respond to natural disasters or participate in international peacekeeping missions.

The draft allows young men to opt out and perform some other community service such as working in hospitals, and some feared that these 14,000 short-term workers a year would be missed.

Split parliament

In addition to the ÖVP, the far-right Freedom Party backed compulsory service. Chancellor Werner Faymann's SPÖ, the Greens and two smaller parliamentary parties wanted to do away with the draft.

Sunday's vote was modern Austria's first ever nationwide referendum, and, though the vote is not binding, the government has vowed to respect the result.

mkg, hc/ipj (AFP, dpa)

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