Austrian party demands referendum on Russia sanctions

Far-right Freedom Party says sanctions linked to Ukraine war are damaging economy

Shoppers on a street in Vienna. The Austrian government is under pressure over sanctions on Russia. AP
Powered by automated translation

An Austrian party has called for sanctions on Russia to be put to a referendum as high energy prices bite.

The far-right Freedom Party accused ministers of violating Austria’s long-standing neutrality by plunging it into an “economic war”.

As a member of the European Union, Austria has adopted seven rounds of sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, including a ban on Russian oil.

But Ukraine’s allies fear sanctions fatigue will set in during winter as the energy crisis reaches a peak.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has already floated the idea of a referendum on sanctions. In Britain, a poll by The National showed many are only willing to support sanctions if the cost of living does not rise.

In Austria, Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl said Chancellor Karl Nehammer should veto any further sanctions in Brussels and put the existing ones to a public vote.

“It is families, workers, businesses, pensioners, young people and the middle class that are paying the price for the EU and the government’s sanctions madness, without ever being asked if they were prepared to do it,” he said.

The sanctions “are neither ending the war in Ukraine nor changing Russian foreign policy, but are merely causing self-inflicted damage to the prosperity built up over many decades in our country and the future of our children”.

EU Affairs Minister Karoline Edtstadler made an impassioned defence of Austria’s policy at a special sitting of Parliament on Monday.

She said the government could not be accused of leaving people to freeze this winter when electricity prices have been capped, most adults will receive €500 ($490) in relief and gas storage tanks are almost 80 per cent full.

“If you look at the history books, you will see that Austria has withstood many ordeals,” she said in a speech frequently interrupted by hecklers on the Freedom Party benches.

“If you would listen for once and not keep interrupting, you would hear what I have to say: pessimism and simply identifying the problem don’t get us anywhere, especially in a time like this,” she told them.

EU diplomats were on Monday discussing a proposed eighth sanctions package that would widen export bans and put a cap on the Russian oil price when it sells to developing countries.

Mr Nehammer said in May that Austria would not support sanctions on Russian gas.

The country has historically relied heavily on gas from Russia, although Ms Edtstadler said its dependency has fallen from 80 to 50 per cent.

Russia’s main gas pipeline to Europe, Nord Stream 1, stopped delivering gas in August.

It was apparently put beyond use for the foreseeable future after a pair of undersea blasts last week that caused a leak in the Baltic Sea.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 3:07 PM