Photo by Erwin Scheriau
Artillery Row

Government against the governed

Austria has already decided on barring the unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immune from participating in normal life

Necessity has no law.” This maxim was quoted on the arrest of King Richard II in 1399. For people observing developments across the European Union, the ancient truism has become increasingly pertinent.

Austria is now openly discussing plans for barring the unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immune from participating in normal life.

As the Krone Zeitung writes, “the outlook for the unvaccinated remains entirely bleak.” Being barred from Christmas is the least of it. They will pay, and any hope in potential loopholes is being dashed. The newspaper continues, “those who slavishly hope that they will be able to ‘exempt’ themselves from compulsory vaccination after 1 February by paying a one-time penalty have been deceived.”

They will be made to “pay several times” over. A vaccine mandate will mean inevitable job loses for those unwilling or unable to submit. Those who do lose their jobs won’t easily have access to unemployment help. After all, they will be outlaws. In addition, they will be physically constrained, stopped from leading a normal life and fined. With no means of earning an honest living, many fines will go unpaid. Bailiffs, bankruptcies and potential incarcerations are sure to follow.

The Austrian government is planning to have a draft law to enforce the vaccine mandate by 6 December, with the legislation enacted by 1 February 2022.

The Austrian ruling caste knows that the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional

The Constitutional Affairs minister, Karoline Edtstadler, admitted that “the introduction of general compulsory vaccination naturally encroaches on fundamental rights” before adding, “it is a necessary and justified step.” As a kick-off for the drafting process, a roundtable is being organised on 30 November. It will bring all the right stakeholders together. The outcome, Soviet-style, has already been agreed. As Mrs Edtstadler put it, different opinions are not required as it would “not suggest a constructive contribution”.

Adding to the sense of inevitability, the Minister for Health Wolfgang Mueckstein acknowledged that this is a “far-reaching measure” and needs to be passed on “a broad basis and to involve as many different stakeholders as possible in the process”.

The hope, presumably, being that when the blame comes as it surely must, it will be more difficult to pin on any one stakeholder’s chest. In short, the Austrian ruling caste knows that the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional.

The president of the Austrian Republic, Van Der Bellen, the last defender of the constitution, would in all certainty have blocked the move and threatened a constitutional crisis, were it not for the fact that his party, the Greens, form part of the government. Thus, he will ignore the unconstitutionality of the emergency laws, creating a very dangerous precedent in the process.

Interestingly, these developments were set in motion well before the Omicron strand hit the headlines. The latter will be used to increase the pressure on a large minority of hitherto law-abiding citizens to comply.

The system buckled, didn’t snap and bounced back to save millions

In the depth of the data, however, Austria is faring no worse than its neighbours. As of 26 November, the “death to cases ratio” for the country was 0.4 per cent based on 14,330 cases, with full-vaccination rates close to 67 per cent according to the European Centre for Disease Control. In Germany, despite a higher vaccination rate of 72.9 per cent, the death to cases ratio is virtually identical to Austria. Italy’s ratio is 0.5 per cent and France is on 0.2 per cent with vaccination uptakes of around 80 per cent. In all cases, the lethality of the virus has plummeted over the course of the year.

Among the unintended consequences of Austria’s emergency laws will be the power to harm and humiliate. The law’s first victim will be civility. The state will interfere in private homes, pitting family members against one another.

As a predictable counter-stroke, Austrian cities have witnessed some of the largest demonstrations since 1945. From Graz to Salzburg and from Innsbruck to Vienna, Austrians regardless of background are, unusually, taking to the streets.  Friends and fellow citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the cul-de-sac down which their political class is taking them.

That it should go down that route is a tragedy. The vaccines have been a great success. Covid-linked mortality is at a fraction of its former peaks. The rollout across most western European countries, including Austria, has been relatively efficient after some initial adjustments. The system buckled, didn’t snap and bounced back to save millions.

Now by deploying the state’s awesome power to turn a section of society into second class citizens, Austria risks severing the bond between the government and the governed.

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