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Politics of Austria

From Academic Kids

Template:Subarticleof Template:Politics of Austria The ethnically and culturally homogenous nation state of Austria is the small but prosperous remnant of Austria-Hungary, a vast multinational empire foundered in 1918. Having been an authoritarian monarchy with a thin veil of constitutionality until then, Austria embarked on a first attempt at republican governance in the years following the collapse of the empire. This attempt quickly failed; Austria's First Republic gradually degenerated into an clerical fascist dictatorship between 1918 and 1934 and eventually embraced National Socialist totalitarianism in 1938. Following the defeat of National Socialism in 1945, however, Austria began to incrementally evolve into a bona fide liberal democracy. As of the beginning of the twenty-first century, Austria's Second Republic presents itself as a stable federal republic with a written constitution, governed according to the principles of representative democracy and the rule of law. On the one hand, Austrian and international observers frequently note that the nation's political culture still shows a marked lack of enthusiasm for pluralism and civil liberties, aggravated by vestiges of corporatism. On the other hand, the constitutional framework of the Politics of Austria and the marrow of the constitution's practical implementation are widely agreed to be robust and adequately conductive of peaceful change.

Contents

Government

Main article: Constitution of Austria

Even though the Republic of Austria is just slightly larger than Maine, Scotland, or Hokkaidō, and even though it is home to an ethnically and culturally homogenous population of barely more than eight million people, Austria's constitution characterizes the republic as a federation consisting of nine autonomous federal states. Both the federation and all its states have written constitutions defining them to be republican entities governed according to the principles of representative democracy. Aside from the fact that the states of Austria lack an independent judiciary on the one hand and that their autonomy is largely notional on the other hand, Austria's government structure is surprisingly similar to that of incomparably larger federal republics such as Germany or the United States.

Austria's head of state is the Bundesprsident (Federal President), elected by popular vote for a term of six years and limited to two terms of office.

The federal legislature is bicameral. The lower house, called Nationalrat (National Council), is the predominant of the legislature's two chambers and is elected by nation-wide popular vote for a term of four years. The upper house is called Bundesrat (Federal Council) and its members are appointed by the parliaments of the federal states. The power of the Federal Council is very limited because its veto has only deferring effect.

The federal cabinet consists of the Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor, prime minister) appointed by the president and a number of ministers appointed by the president on the recommendation of the chancellor. The federal cabinet is answerable to the National Council and can be forced to resign by a motion of no confidence. Traditionally the president assigns the chairperson of the party with the largest number of seats in the National Council with building the cabinet. However the National Council is elected by proportional representation and different coalitions of parties represented in it are possible. Therefore the president cannot select a cabinet at his/her discretion but has to respect the will of the majority of deputies to the National Council.

The office of the Federal President is largely ceremonial, although the constitution allows the president to dismiss the cabinet or to dissolve the National Council and call new elections. The Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly), which is formed by National Council and Federal Council in joint session, can call a referendum on the impeachment of the president if it concludes that the president violated the constitution.

This form of government could be described as a mixture between parliamentary and presidential democracy. But during the Second Republic until the present day no president ever has used one of the above mentioned rights, and they generally refrained from intervening in day-to-day political conflicts.

The federal government is subject to significant, albeit decreasing, influence by state-approved, compulsory-membership chambers of labour, commerce and agriculture, as well as by trade unions and lobbyist groups. During periods of coalition government by the two large political camps, conservatives and social democrats, this has led to a system called Proporz, where all jobs in the public administration were evenly distributed to supporters of the two parties. At that time the so-called Sozialpartnerschaft (socio-economic partnership) between the chambers of commerce and labour decided on large parts of Austria's economic policy. These decisions were made in back-room meetings and then forwarded to the parliament where they were enacted without discussion.

Following Austria's admittance into the European Union in 1995, the federal government has also begun ceding core responsibilities to supranational institutions at an increasing rate.

Principal Government Officials

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 (VP) obtained 50% of the vote (85 seats) in the National Council, 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 VP led a governing coalition with the socialists (now called the Social Democratic Party or SP) that governed until 1966. In that year, the VP won an absolute majority and ruled alone for the next four years. The tables turned in 1970, when the SP became the strongest party for the first time, winning even an absolute majority under its charismatic leader Bruno Kreisky in 1971. Between 1971 and 1999, the SP ruled the country either alone or in conjunction with the VP, except from 1983-86, when it governed in coalition with the Freedom Party (this coalition broke when the right-wing politician Jrg Haider became the leader of the Freedom Party). After the election of 1999, despite emerging only in third place after the elections, the VP formed a coalition with the right wing-populist Freedom Party (FP) in early 2000. The SP, which was the strongest party in the 1999 elections, and the Greens now form the opposition. As a result of the inclusion of the FP on the government, the EU imposed symbolic sanctions on Austria, which were revoked six months later. The U.S. and Israel, as well as various other countries, also reduced contacts with the Austrian Government. The VP was re-elected, this time with a plurality of votes, in the 2002 elections, and formed another coalition government with the FP, this time largely ignored by other countries.

The Social Democratic Party (SP) traditionally draws its constituency from blue- and white-collar workers. Accordingly, much of its strength lies in urban and industrialized areas. In the 2002 national elections, it garnered 36.5% of the vote. The SP 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 (VP) 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 strongholds in the rural regions of Austria. In 2002, it received 42.3% of the vote.

The rightist Freedom Party (FP) 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 Jrg Haider steadily gained support from the beginning of Jrg Haider's leadership in 1986 until it attracted about 27% of the vote in the 1999 elections. However, their voters were soon disillusioned by the party's style of government, and in the 2002 elections they were reduced to just 10%. Recent regional and communal elections led to further losses.

The Greens (GRNE), a left-of-center party focusing on social and environmental issues, received 9.4% of the vote in 2002. They are particularly strong in the city areas, for example in Vienna, where they received 22% of the votes in the 2004 EU-elections. In Neubau they received 41% of the votes, more than SP and VP together. The Greens attract left-wing intellectuals and voters from 18-30.

The Liberal Forum (LIF), founded on liberal ideals, split from the Freedom Movement in February 1993. It received 3.65% of the vote in the 1999 election and thus failed to re-enter the national legislature. After being reduced to under 1% in the 2002 election, they disappeared almost completely from public view.

Recent events

After major disputes inside the FP between Haider and vice-chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, the VP broke the coalition in 2002 and called for re-elections. Riess-Passer left the FP, and the former Minister of Social Services, Herbert Haupt, was appointed as new leader. In a brilliant marketing move, Chancellor Wolfgang Schssel convinced the then very popular Minister of Finance Karl-Heinz Grasser to change from the FP to the VP.

Not only was the FP publicly blamed for breaking the coalition and had lost Minister Grasser to the VP, their style of government and broken promises also left many of their former voter disillusioned. In the elections, which were held on 24 November 2002, 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 VP, which went up from 26% to 42%, the highest value for decades. Both Greens and Social Democrats gained votes, but not enough to form a coalition (only 85 of 183 seats).

Against public opinion (which was in favour of an VP-SP coalition government) Chancellor Schssel renewed the coalition between the VP and FP.

Despite being exposed to fierce criticism from the opposition parties for failed or highly unfavorable privatization deals, the highest tax rates and unemployment figures since 1945, a questionable fighter jet purchase and repeated accusations that Finance Minister Grasser may have evaded taxes, the government seems to be the most stable in decades as both parties are afraid of losing votes. Recent law changes concerning the police, the national television and radio company, the federal railways and the social security system have led to an increase of the VP's and FP's influence in these bodies.

In early April 2005, following severe disputes within the FP, Jrg Haider announced the creation of a new party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZ). All FP members of government and most members of parliament joined the BZ, but the picture after the split looks very diverse on state and local levels. However, as of April 2005, it seems that the current coalition holds, as neither the VP, nor the BZ or the FP has any interest in holding early elections, which those parties are likely to lose.

Miscellaneous

Independence: 1156 (from Bavaria; see Privilegium Minus), 1945 (from Nazi Germany), 1955 (from the Allies) <p>National holiday: National Day, 26 October (1955) <p>Constitution: 1920; revised 1929 (reinstated 1 May 1945) <p>Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal <p>Executive branch:
chief of state: President Heinz Fischer (since 8 July 2004). See also: List of Federal Presidents of Austria
head of government: Chancellor Wolfgang Schssel (VP)(since 4 February 2000); Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach (FP) (since 21 October 2003). See also: Chancellor of Austria <p>Political parties and leaders: Austrian People's Party or VP (Wolfgang Schssel, chairman); Communist Party or KP (Walter Baier, chairman, not represented in parliament since 1959); Freedom Party of Austria or FP (Heinz Christian Strache, chairman); Alliance for the Future of Austria or BZ (Uwe Scheuch, spokesperson); Liberal Forum or LIF (Alexander Zach, spokesperson, not represented in parliament since 1999); Social Democratic Party of Austria or SP (Alfred Gusenbauer, chairman); The Greens or GA (Alexander Van der Bellen, party spokesperson) <p>Political pressure groups and lobbies Austrian Trade Union Federation - GB; Economic Chamber of 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; <p>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

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