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This article has been co-authored by Chiara Libiseller and Bernhard Völkl.
UPDATE: Proposed changes to military law now dealt with in parliament
On January 15, the Ministry of Defence introduced a draft bill which aims at changing different military laws in one go; the more controversial proposed changes regard the ‘military authorization law’ and included an easier and wider access to telecommunication data for military intelligence services, as well as the right to conduct identity verifications in cases of public verbal abuse of the Bundesheer.
On February 26, the period for external reviews of the draft bill has passed. (This period is part of the regular legislative process and offers governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as private citizens the opportunity to comment on draft bills; sponsors of bills are not however legally obliged to incorporate the reviews.) Following a total of 24 comments that were submitted to the bill, MoD drafted a revised bill which does not include the privilege to identity checks anymore; this will remain the sole right of the police. Additionally, the wider access to telecom data (IP address, name and address of users) will now require – depending on the circumstances – either the prior notification or the prior approval of a legal protection officer. However, the possibility to access such data remains part of the proposed bill, even though it spurred much criticism from data protectionists as well as lawyers and the ministry of justice, who especially criticised the vague wording regarding the possible circumstances of such data requests.
Also in place remains what the radio station FM4 has titled ‘the shortest cyber regulation worldwide’: through the addition of two words to an existing regulation computer systems are added to the list of ‘means to exert coercive power’ (the relevant sentence in the draft bill reads rather amusingly: ‘In § 17 Z 2 after the words “service dogs” the words “as well as computer systems” are to be added’). While MoD presents this as a medium to be able to trace back cyberattacks and their perpetrators, others have warned of this simple addition that comes without any further clarification or limitation
Within parliament, the committee on national defence is now set to debate the proposal before it can be dealt with and voted on in a plenary session.
Conscription slightly more popular than community service
Austria’s young male citizens remain slightly more prone to serve as conscripts than to opt for the alternate community service: up from a low of 51.3% in 2015, last year 56% of those liable to serve in either capacity chose the military. Meanwhile, total figures are following a downwards slope as fewer young citizens were born in or around 2000 than in the preceding years. This trend is exacerbated by the increasing numbers of those deemed unfit for service: of 46,500 young males called to the universal medical exam in 2018, a mere 66%, 30,700 in total, were deemed fit for service. The capital Vienna leads the tables in those deemed unfit and those opting for civilian service, while the western states produce the fittest youth and the southern state of Carinthia sees the highest proportion of young males – 76% – opting for military service.
Meanwhile, it has been lamented that a quarter of those conscripted end up in support rather than frontline functions; this is part of a wider criticism brought forward by the Austrian Court of Audit and aimed at the half-hearted reform of Austria’s compulsory service system. According to the Court, too few conscripts are being assigned to core military functions, only a small proportion of them are called to regular disaster relief efforts or other missions, and the armed forces’ long standing efforts of attracting female soldiers have yielded little.
Header image: Austrian Armed Forces Photograph/GREBIEN
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