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Erwin from Austria: “Direct Democracy makes people happier”

Erwin from Austria: “Direct Democracy makes people happier”

25-06-2013

Erwin Leitner is one of the leading activists behind mehr demokratie!, a nonpartisan organisation that works towards implementing direct democracy at all political levels in Austria. Together with his friend Erwin Mayer he has set up the organisation, which primarily aims at introducing binding, citizen-initiated referenda at federal level. mehr demokratie! is a founding member of Democracy International’s Council. I had the chance to speak to Erwin Leitner on the occasion of the Council’s establishing meeting, which took place in Cologne, Germany on 4 May 2013. 

Democracy International: Why do you commit to direct democracy?

Erwin Leitner: My overall goal of life is to contribute to bettering society and to making people happier. There are many arguments which say that direct democracy makes people happier. These arguments are underlined by findings of political science by the way. Direct democracy makes people more content because it allows people to exchange arguments and opinions with each other and to thoroughly engage with a topic. Direct democracy is a social thing.

How did you become an activist of direct democracy in Austria?

Well, I was already interested in direct democracy when studying legal science. But I was not active then. My activism was triggered in 2003 when Austria was debating the EU constitution and whether to ratify it by referendum. I started being active for more direct democracy in 2006 in the context of the campaign “4 Jahre sind genug” (“Four years are enough”). The campaign opposed the lengthening of the legislative period from four to five years. Since 2007 we have been building up mehr demokratie! as an association.

What have you been doing to establish mehr demokratie! as an association?

Erwin Mayer, a close friend of mine and also strongly committed to direct democracy and myself started with establishing contacts to Mehr Demokratie Deutschland. We were amazed by this professional organisation, but nothing like that was existing yet in Austria. Our goal therefore was the establishment of a similar organisation in Austria. Finally, Erwin Mayer, Peter Kröppl and myself founded mehr demokratie! in 2010. Still we have some way to go. Currently, we have activists in the countries (Länder) of Vienna, Salzburg and Vorarlberg. Our long-term goal is the establishment of mehr demokratie! as a strong membership organisation throughout the whole of Austria.

What are you campaigning for in Austria?

The big political parties ÖVP (Conservatives) and SPÖ (Social Democrats) have been talking about introducing direct democracy for the last one and ½ years. They call it euphemistically “Demokratiepaket” (Democracy Parcel). However, this parcel consists of proposals for non-binding democracy by the parties for the parties. In contrast we want real direct democracy, the citizens’ initiative and the referendum, initiated by the citizens for the citizens. So we demand a “Demokratiepaket XXL” with several awareness raising actions – In February 2013 we posed in front of the Austrian Parliament, the aim was to show what real direct democracy is about and how thin the Government’s proposals are. We are grateful for the support we received by Democracy International for this action. Currently right now we are working towards implementing more direct democracy before the next federal elections, which are due to take place in September 2013. Our actual means is the establishment of a citizens’ assembly which is to work out the proposals for direct democracy itself. Then there will be a referendum. You see, this is direct democracy initiated from below.

Further information

- mehr demokratie!

- The campaign for a citizens‘ assembly

Monitoring Reports

- the non-binding plebiscite held in Austria in January 2013 on the issue of military

- report on the non-binding plebiscite held in Vienna in March 2013 on a variety of issues

Questions by Cora Pfafferott

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