© Bild: APA/BUNDESHEER/ARNO PUSCA

Austria Defence Minister, Thomas Starlinger, on Tuesday, disclosed that the armed forces are so severely underfunded that they can no longer protect the population in case of a serious emergency in the country.

The general, who serves in a caretaker government composed of senior officials, issued a call for much higher defence spending two weeks before parliamentary elections that will lead to the formation of a new cabinet.

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The armed forces’ annual budget should be more than doubled from what it is currently – 2.2 billion euros (2.4 billion dollars) to around 5.6 billion euros – by 2030, according to a plan the Defence Ministry presented on Tuesday.

This would bring defence spending to one per cent of Austria’s gross domestic product.
In a video message, Starlinger brought up the scenario of a terrorist attack by armed foreign fighters who return to Austria from crisis regions.

“You might think that the Federal Army protects you in such situations, but I have to disappoint you,” he said.

“Because of drastic cost-cutting policies over the past 30 years, we can no longer guarantee this.”

Weakened by a backlog in investments and lack of staffing, the army lacks defence systems against drones and is unable to protect key national infrastructure, the minister warned.

As a neutral country, Austria is not part of the western NATO alliance.