The Second Austrian Republic is governed as a federally organized democratic republic that observes a separation of powers among legislative, executive, and juridical institutions. Both citizens and members of their government are answerable to law that is developed according to procedures outlined in its constitution. Though this political and administrative structure marked a dramatic break with the Nazi regime in place between 1938 and 1945, it was not altogether new to the Austrian experience. Indeed, successive Austrian constitutions had been drawing upon their predecessors for almost a century. The general principles of the post-1945 system were adapted from the constitution of the First Austrian Republic, issued in 1920. This, in turn, drew some fundamental features from the constitution granted in 1867 to the Austrian, or Cis-Leithenian, half of the Dual Monarchy. That document, in turn, had its roots in an earlier arrangement introduced in Franz Joseph’s February Patent of 1861.
   Following its suppression of the liberal Revolutions of 1848, the Habsburg government returned to some practices taken from a more absolutistic past. However, challenged by breakaway nationalism and middle-class dissatisfaction with his military expenditures, the emperor adjusted to more conciliatory tactics. His Patent turned the Habsburg Empire into a constitutional, though hardly democratic, state. The document called for a two-house parliament in which the lower branch could vote on military and budgets. Its representatives were chosen by provincial diets throughout the monarch’s lands that were organized in four interest groups or Curia. To qualify for membership in these assemblies, one had to pay a certain amount in direct taxes. The propertyless and the impoverished generally had no franchise. An upper house, the House of Notables (Herrenhaus), chosen by the emperor, was even less representative.
   The constitution granted on 21 December 1867 retained the twohouse structure, with the lower branch exercising some fiscal controls over the government and its military. The emperor held the power to declare war, command the army, make peace, and conduct foreign policy. Laws were promulgated in the name of the emperor, though an independent judiciary soon developed. The monarch governed through ministers, who served at his pleasure. Nevertheless, the latter were also responsible to the lower house of the parliament. But the most significant innovation in the arrangement was its explicit guarantee of basic civil liberties: personal property, equality before the law, privacy, freedom of religion and speech, and the right of assembly among them. Though not always respected by Franz Joseph’s governments, these concessions remained formally intact in the Austrian half of the monarchy until emergency rule became the norm in World War I. Voting privileges expanded progressively as well. The emperor granted universal manhood suffrage in 1907, effectively abolishing voting by economic class.
   The two-house parliament carried over into the First Austrian Republic after 1918. The fragmentary and semiprovisional Constitution of 1920 designated the lower branch, the National Council (Nationalrat), as the highest governing body in the state. With the franchise now extended to women, directly elected representatives named ministers and chose the national president, who was formally the head of state but practically a ceremonial figurehead. The second house, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), spoke for the provinces that selected its members. It could veto legislation, but the National Council could reintroduce it. The 1920 Constitution also prescribed the republic’s federal organization. It retained the list of civil rights that were recognized by the former emperor in 1867. Economic and political pressures led to important changes in the structure of government in the First Republic by 1925. Centralism was stressed at the expense of federalism. Austria’s provinces had often acted quite autonomously in the chaos that followed World War I; new constraints were now placed on them. Provincial governorships were folded into a state supervisory office, and national administrators could question provincial expenditures, taxes, and financial policies generally.
   Even greater centralization came in 1929. The federal government took on a larger role in provincial security affairs. The powers of the National Council were also significantly limited, and the role of the president redefined. Now directly elected, he or she could call and adjourn the National Council and proclaim states of emergency. The president commanded the army and named the president of the Constitutional Court.
   In 1934, the authoritarian regime of Engelbert Dollfuss introduced a series of allegedly emergency measures passed by a cooperative rump of the National Council. The Constitutional Court was shut down and popular sovereignty set aside. Austria was no longer a republic but rather the Austrian Federation (Bundesstaat Österreich) made up of Vienna and eight provinces under the direct control of the state government. “Leadership” was in the hands of the federal chancellor. Laws were drawn up by four “Organs”: the Council of State, the Economic Council, the Council of Provinces, and the Cultural Council of the Provinces. A federal assembly (Bundestag) of 49 members chosen from the four Organs, which prepared legislation, voted on the proposals.
   The president named provincial governments. The government of the Second Austrian Republic is far more participatory both in tone and structure. Youth is no barrier to political activity. The minimum age for voting is 16. Candidates must be 18 to run for elective office, with the exception of the presidency, for which one must be 35. Legislatively and administratively, Austria in the 21st century is far more regionalized than was the case from the 18th century on. Although nationwide lawmaking is primarily left to the lower house or federal assembly (Nationalrat), referenda and popular initiatives are permitted and used. Another form of formal public advisory input, especially on fiscal and welfare issues, is various chambers that are grouped according to economic interests. Austria’s nine provinces have their own parliaments with substantive powers. Seated, like the Nationalrat, according to proportional representation, they choose their respective provincial governors, who have both federal and local duties. Provincial legislatures can set some tax rates as well as salary and pension scales for territorial civil servants. If the federal government believes that a measure passed at the provincial level threatens the national interest, it can veto the bill. Nevertheless, the provincial parliament can override the move. The Austrian provinces also send spokespersons to their national delegation at the European Union in Brussels.
   Yet other subdivisions of Austrian local government are the districts (Bezirke), the smallest units of federal administration and local communes, which have their own mayors and councils with administrative, but no legislative, responsibilities. A quasi-independent body, the Central Auditing Office, monitors expenditures of both the Nationalrat and the provincial parliaments and issues annual reports on these activities. Such documents can become the basis of both legislative and party programs of the Austrian parliament. The most independent component of Austrian government is the judiciary, responsible to the law alone. Though some municipalities are authorized to maintain local police forces, the chief law enforcement powers in the country are distributed among several departments accountable to the federal minister of the interior. The chief unit is the Federal Security Guard, an outgrowth of a civilianorganized police guard established during the Revolutions of 1848. A federal gendarmerie, organized along more regular military lines, is posted in all of the Austrian provinces except Vienna and is especially active in emergencies, both personal and national. The State Police provide security details for high government officials and conduct counterintelligence and counterterrorist investigations. The Criminal Intelligence Service both works within Austria and cooperates with Interpol. The Administrative Police deal with violations of import and export regulations and immigration law and supervise customs procedures.
   See also Political Parties.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.


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