Constitution, Austria

   Construed broadly, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Austria has three parts, the Austrian State Treaty of 1955, the Law on Permanent Neutrality, and the Bundesverfassung, or Federal Constitution (which covers such matters as the structure of the federal government, the locus of sovereignty and the philosophical and legal principles that govern its exercise, and the relationship of the nine federal provinces to national political and legal institutions). Alteration of the basic principles of the constitution may take place only after an affirmative popular plebiscite. The Federal Constitution incorporates much of the constitution of the First Republic, issued in 1920 and amended in 1929. It therefore reflects many of the values of the jurist Hans Kelsen, who was largely responsible for the 1920 version and who defined democracy as the greatest amount of personal freedom consistent with societal reality. It was suspended in 1934 by the government of Engelbert Dollfuss; it was declared operative again in 1945. Many of the individual rights guaranteed by the Second Austrian Republic were taken from a constitution issued in the Austrian half of the Dua1 Monarchy that was in place following the Compromise (Ausgleich) with Hungary in 1867. The current provisions have been further reinforced by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which Austria was a signatory in 1958.
   The ultimate source of legal authority in the modern Austrian Republic is the people, directly represented on the federal level in the National Assembly (Nationalrat), the lower house of the parliament, and indirectly in the upper house, the Federal Chamber (Bundeskammer), which represents the nine provinces and is chosen in local legislatures. The seats in both chambers are allocated based on the number of votes the contending parties receive. The Federal Chamber has the right to register objections to and suggestions for legislation from the lower house. It cannot block measures that the National Assembly adopts. The National Assembly is also charged to consider any popular initiative endorsed by 100,000 eligible voters or minimally one-sixth of franchise holders in each of three provinces. It need not, however, enact such initiatives into law. Upon a vote of a majority, the National Assembly may also ask for a public referendum on legislation it has passed. Should the question be an amendment to the constitution, only one-third of the body’s total membership of 183 may call for such a measure.
   The chancellor, the vice-chancellor, various ministers, and their immediate subordinates direct the work of the government. Each of the provinces also has its own deliberative body, which has important local powers and elects a governor. The latter is responsible for the conduct of federal affairs in his or her state. The judiciary is independent.
   A federal president, elected for a term of six years, may hold only two terms consecutively. Since 1951, the Austrian electorate has chosen its president by direct vote. The president is not so much a representative of an individual party as of the Austrian people as a whole. He or she represents the republic in foreign policy, convokes and recesses parliaments, and can dissolve the National Assembly one time during a presidency. The president is also the commanderinchief of the Austrian military; actual deployment of these forces is in the hands of the Ministry of Defense. Military service is obligatory for Austrian males. They must spend six months on active duty and return for two months of training exercise annually for 12 years thereafter. Their deployment, however, has been explicitly restricted by the 1955 Law of Permanent Neutrality.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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