Table of contents
The development of federalism in Austria
Efforts to reform and renew the federal system of Austria
Austria can be often found in enumerations of federal states in Europe just on the side of Switzerland and Germany but is Austria a real federal state or just a decentralized state?
“Austria is a federal state. The Federal State is composed of the autonomous Länder of Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tirol, Vorarlberg and
Vienna . The Federal territory comprises the territories of the Federal Länder.” (Article 2 and 3, Austrian federal constitutional law).
With these articles it can be seen that the Austrian constitution clearly identifies Austria as a federal state but if you take a closer look at this constitution the question will occur if the Federal State of Austria does suffer from a lack of federalism. In the first part of the essay I will explain the development of federalism beginning with the end of the monarchy in 1918. The second part will be an explanation of how federalism is supposed to work in this country and the third part will be dedicated to the efforts of reforming and renew the Austrian system of federalism.
The development of federalism in Austria
The origins of Austria as a federal state can be already found in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. First of all there was a high level of autonomy for the Hungarian Part of the Empire, which was introduced in 1867, as a concession after some upheavals against the Austrian rulers. From this point on the Habsburg Empire was separated in an Austrian and a Hungarian Part. These two parts were only connected in questions of foreign, military and financial policy. Hungary was even seen as an independent state which had some institutions in come with the rest of the monarchy and the emperor was in personal union Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. (A. Pelinka and S. Rosenberger 2002 18)
The second origin of Austrian federalism can be recognized in the structure of the Austrian part of the empire. It was composed of the crown-lands. Parts of these crown-lands had developed to the present Austrian “Bundesländer” (H. Schambeck 1997 7). The crown-lands were represented in the imperial assembly (“Reichsrat”) which was made up of two chambers: the House of Lords and the House of Representatives. Before 1873 the lower camber of the “Reichsrat” was nominated by the “Landtage” (parliaments of the crown-lands) and from that point on it was directly elected by men over twenty-four years, who paid a certain amount of taxes.
After the First World War in 1918 the monarchy collapsed and the German-speaking crown lands united to form the Republic of Austria. The two big government-parties (the Social Democratic Labour Party and the Christan Social Party) enacted the Austrian constitution in 1920. This constitution was a compromise between those two parties. The Socialists wanted to have a unitary state without sovereignty of the provinces and without a chamber which represents these provinces. The Conservatives on the other side put themselves out for a federal state with a high autonomy for the provinces and two-chamber system in which the chamber that represents the provinces (Bundesrat) is equal to the national assembly. As a compromise the constitution incorporated a federal state with weak province rights and a “Bundesrat” with minor powers. (A. Pelinka and S. Rosenberger 2002 24)
Although the form of the Austrian constitution of 1920 can be clearly identified as federal, the content can not. Therefore the Federal Republic of Austria had to suffer from the very beginning on from tensions between the ideal of a federal state and the reality.
An important fact is that in this constitution a general clause could be found. Is says that the provinces are responsible for all competencies that are not expressly in the jurisdiction of the federal state. Very significant in this connection is that the federal state possesses the majority of the important powers like all judicial powers, the responsibility for police and military and so on.