Politics of Austria

Table of contents
1 Government
2 Principal Government Officials
3 Political Conditions
4 Reference

Government

The Austrian president convenes and concludes parliamentary sessions and under certain conditions can dissolve Parliament. However, no Austrian president has dissolved Parliament in the Second Republic. The custom is for Parliament to call for new elections if needed. The president requests a party leader, usually the leader of the strongest party, to form a government. Upon the recommendation of the Federal Chancellor, the president also appoints cabinet ministers. No one can become a member of the government without the approval of the president.

The Federal Assembly of Austria, or parliament, is composed of two houses - the National Council (Nationalrat), and the Federal Council (Bundesrat). Legislative authority is concentrated in the National Council. Its 183 members are elected for a maximum 4-year term in a three-tiered system, based on proportional representation. The National Council may dissolve itself by a simple majority vote or it may be dissolved by the president on the recommendation of the Chancellor. The 64 members of the Federal Council are elected by the legislatures of the nine provinces for 4- to 6-year terms. The Federal Council only reviews legislation passed by the National Council and can delay but not veto its enactment.

The highest courts of Austria's independent judiciary are the Constitutional Court; the Administrative Court, which handles bureaucratic disputes; and the Supreme Court, for civil and criminal cases. Cases in the Administrative and Supreme Courts concerning constitutional issues can be appealed to the Constitutional Court. Justices of the three courts are appointed by the president for specific terms.

The governors of Austria's nine Laender (provinces) are elected by the provincial legislatures. Although most authority, including that of the police, rests with the federal government, the provinces have considerable responsibility for welfare matters and local administration. Strong provincial and local loyalties are based on tradition and history.

Principal Government Officials

Austria maintains an embassy in the United States at 3524 International Court, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (te1. 202-895-6700). Consulates general are located in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with honorary consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Honolulu, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Paul, San Francisco, San Juan, and Seattle.

Political Conditions

Since World War II, Austria has enjoyed political stability. A Socialist elder statesman, Dr. Karl Renner, organized an Austrian administration in the aftermath of the war, and general elections were held in November 1945. In that election, the conservative People's Party (OVP) obtained 50% of the vote (85 seats) in the National Council (lower house of Parliament), the Socialists won 45% (76 seats), and the communists won 5% (4 seats). The ensuing three-party government ruled until 1947, when the communists left the government and the ÖVP led a governing coalition with the socialists (now called the Social Democratic Party or SPÖ) that governed until 1966. Between 1970 and 1999, the SPÖ has ruled the country either alone or in conjunction with the ÖVP, except from 1983-86, when it governed in coalition with the Freedom Party. In 1999, the OVP formed a coalition with the right wing-populist Freedom Party (FPÖ). The SPÖ, which was the strongest party in the 1999 elections, and the Greens now form the opposition. As a result of the inclusion of the FPÖ on the government, the EU imposed a series of sanctions on Austria. The U.S. and Israel, as well as various other countries, also reduced contacts with the Austrian Government.

The Social Democratic Party traditionally draws its constituency from blue- and white-collar workers. Accordingly, much of its strength lies in urban and industrialized areas. In the 1995 national elections, it garnered 38% of the vote. The SPÖ in the past advocated heavy state involvement in Austria's key industries, the extension of social security benefits, and a full-employment policy. Beginning in the mid-1980s, it shifted its focus to free market-oriented economic policies, balancing the federal budget, and European Union (EU) membership.

The People's Party advocates conservative financial policies and privatization of much of Austria's nationalized industry and finds support from farmers, large and small business owners, and lay Catholic groups, but also from voters without party affiliation, with stronholds in the rural regions of Austria. In 1995, it received 28% of the vote. The rightist Freedom Party attracts protest votes and those who desire no association with the other major parties. The party's mixture of populism and anti-establishment themes propagated by its aggressive leader Joerg Haider steadily gained support over the past years. It attracted about 27% of the vote in the 1999 elections. The Liberal Forum, founded on libertarian ideals, split from the Freedom Movement in February 1993. It received 5.5% of the vote in the 1999 election and, thus, failed to re-enter the national legislature. The Greens, a left-of-center party focusing on environmental issues, received 4.4% of the vote in 1999.

After major disputes inside the FPÖ between Haider and vice-chancellor Riesss-Passer, the coalition broke in 2002, and former Minister of Social Services, Herbert Haupt, was appointed as new leader of the FPÖ. Riess-Passer left the party, and Minister of Finance Karl Heinz Grasser changed to the ÖVP. Re-elections were held on 24 November 2002. The FPÖ was publicly blamed for breaking the coalition and furthermore lost the (at this time) publicly favoured Minister of Finance to the ÖVP. Eventually they suffered the biggest loss of votes in Austria's history, going down from 27% to only 10%. Most of these losses went to the ÖVP, which went up from about 28% to 42%, the highest value for decades. Both Greens and Socialists gained votes, but not enough to form a coalition (only 85 of 183 seats).

Against public opinion (which was in favour of a big ÖVP-SPÖ coalition) Schuessel re-newed the coalition between the ÖVP and FPÖ.

Election results 24 November 2002: ÖVP 42.3% (79 seats) SPÖ 36.9% (69) FPÖ 10.2% (19) Greens 9% (16)

Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Austria
conventional short form: Austria
local long form: Republik Österreich
local short form: Österreich

Data code: AU

Government type: federal republic

Capital: Vienna

Administrative divisions: 9 Federal States (Bundesländer, singular - Bundesland):

Burgenland, Kärnten, Niederösterreich, Oberoesterreich, Salzburg, Steiermark, Tirol, Vorarlberg, Wien

Independence: 1156 (from Bavaria)

National holiday: National Day, 26 October (1955)

Constitution: 1920; revised 1929 (reinstated 1 May 1945)

Legal system: civil law system with Roman law origin; judicial review of legislative acts by the Constitutional Court; separate administrative and civil/penal supreme courts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 19 years of age; universal; compulsory for presidential elections

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Thomas Klestil (since 8 July 1992). See also: List of Federal Presidents of Austria
head of government: Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (OeVP)(since 4 February 2000); Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach (FPOe) (since 21 October 2003). See also: Chancellor of Austria
cabinet: Council of Ministers chosen by the president on the advice of the chancellor
elections: president elected by direct popular vote for a six-year term; presidential election last held 19 April 1998 (next to be held in the spring of 2004); chancellor traditionally chosen by the president from the strongest party in the National Council;vice chancellor chosen by the president on the advice of the chancellor.
election results: Thomas KLESTIL reelected president; percent of vote - Thomas KLESTIL 63%, Gertraud KNOLL 14%, Heide SCHMIDT 11%, Richard LUGNER 10%, Karl NOWAK 2%
note: government coalition - FPÖ and ÖVP

Legislative branch: bicameral Federal Assembly or Bundesversammlung consists of Federal Council or Bundesrat (64 members; members represent each of the states on the basis of population, but with each state having at least three representatives; members serve a four- or six-year term) and the National Council or Nationalrat (183 seats; members elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms)

Judicial branch: Supreme Judicial Court or Oberster Gerichtshof; Administrative Court or Verwaltungsgerichtshof; Constitutional Court or Verfassungsgerichtshof

Political parties and leaders: Austrian People's Party or OeVP [Wolfgang SCHÜSSEL, chairman]; Communist Party or KPÖ [Walter BAIER, chairman]; Freedom Party of Austria or FPÖ [Herbert HAUPT, chairman]; Liberal Forum or LF [Heide SCHMIDT] (dissolved); Social Democratic Party of Austria or SPÖ [Alfred GUSENBAUER, chairman]; The Greens or GA [Alexander VAN DER BELLEN, party spokesman]

Political pressure groups and lobbies Austrian Trade Union Federation - OeGB; Economic Chamber Austria - WKO; League of Austrian Industrialists - VOeI; Chamber of Labor - AK , Conference of the Presidents of Farmers' Chambers. Roman Catholic Church, including its chief lay organization, Catholic Action;

International organization participation: AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, BSEC (observer), CCC, CE, CEI, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G- 9, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, MINURSO, NAM (guest), NEA, NSG, OAS (observer),OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNDOF, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOT, UNOMIG, UNTAET, UNTSO, UPU, WCL, WEU (observer), WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Peter MOSER
chancery: 3524 International Court NW, Washington, DC 20008-3035
telephone: [1] (202) 895-6700
FAX: [1] (202) 895-6750
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador William Lee LYONS BROWN, Jr.
embassy: Boltzmanngasse 16, A-1091, Vienna
mailing address: use embassy street address
telephone: [43] (1) 313-39
FAX: [43] (1) 310-0682

Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and red

Reference

Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and 2002 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

See also: Austria, Proporz
For all questions concerning the symbols of Austria go to:

"The Symbols of Austria"


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