In Austria, there are several laws which regulate direct democracy and we have different types of direct-democratic instruments at federal level, in the 9 federal states and in the municipalities.
On federal level we have three different types of direct-democratic instruments:
First, the so called “Volksbegehren” which is an agenda setting initiative that has been utilized 34 times since 1964. This agenda setting initiative can be initiated by 8.023 citizens which is 1 per mille of Austria's population. The parliament has to discuss the "Volksbegehren" if at least 100.000 citizens support it by signing it at the municipal office during a signature period of only one week. In case the parliament does not implement the demand of the "Volksbegehren" no referendum will be held.
Second, there is a “Volksabstimmung” with binding result of a referendum. The "Volksabstimmung" must either be permitted by the parliament or is obigatory in case of fundamental changes of the constitution. Up to now there were only two binding referendums in Austria (1978 dissallowing the nuclear power station in Zwentendorf and 1994 approving the accession to EU). A "Volksabstimmung" cannot be initiated bottom-up by the citizens.
Third, we have also a "Volksbefragung" on federal level which up to now never has been utilized. It is a non-binding consultative referendum which can be initiated only by the parliament.
Further in all 9 federal states of Austria and in all municipalities there are direct-democratic instruments of different kind and quality, but the use of these instruments is still rather rare.
Our main aim is to achive a living practical experience of direct democracy based on constitutional rules which allow referendums to be initiated by the citizens.
The design of the direct-democratic process of opinion making and dicision making should fulfill especially the following criteria:
- effectiveness (the result of the referendum must be binding)
- deliberation (with extensive public discourse)
- compliance with human rights (with possibility to verify at the beginning of the direct-democratic process)
- citizen-friendlyness (by abolishing burocratic hurdles) and
- fairness (with equal opportunities in the popular vote debate and with transparency of financing)