Neutral Austria to vote on military service

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Neutral Austria to vote on military service

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One of a few European countries with a compulsory military service, Austria is holding a referendum today on whether to move to a professional army.

A recent Gallup poll suggested that 48 percent of Austrians were in favour of keeping the draft while 40 percent want it scrapped.

But with turnout expected to be low, the outcome is still uncertain. Although non-binding, the government has vowed to respect the vote.

From 18 years of age, most men are expected to complete six months’ military service.

The state may need to create new jobs if voters opt for a fulltime military. Many conscripts avoid national service by doing nine months’ community work instead. Any change would lead to a shortage of manpower for key services.

Austrian Defence Minister Norbert Darabos has called for a specialised military but conceded that it was a difficult decision for many voters.

“A professional military service leaves many questions unanswered: is it more expensive, are there enough people and do they match our requirements? I’ll say what i’ve said before: Let us make an army of the people, for our people and at the same time let us enlarge the civil service.”

Some think that a professional military would undo Austria’s neutrality and fear the country would face pressure to join NATO.

While a fulltime army is likely to better trained and more effective, the government could do without the extra cost at a time of austerity.