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Politics of Austria

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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), or lower house, and the Federal Council (Bundesrat), or upper house. 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 OVP led a governing coalition with the socialists (now called the Social Democratic Party or SPO) that governed until 1966. Between 1970 and 1999, the SPO has ruled the country either alone or in conjunction with the OVP, 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 (FPO). The SPO, which was the strongest party in the 1999 elections, and the Greens now form the opposition. As a result of the inclusion of the FPO 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 SPO 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, mostly 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 FPOe between Haider and vice-chancellor Riesss-Passer, the coalition broke in 2002, and former Minster of Social Services, Herbert Haupt[?], was appointed as new leader of the FPOe. Riess-Passer left the party, and Minister of Finance Karl Heinz Grasser[?] changed to the OeVP. Re-elections were held on 24 November 2002. The FPOe was publicly blamed for breaking the coalition and furthermore lost the (at this time) publicly favoured Minister of Finance to the OeVP. Eventually they suffered the biggest vote loss in Austria's history, going down from 27% to only 10%. Most of these losses went to the OeVP, 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).

Aganist public opinion (which was in favour of a big SPOe-OeVP coalition) Schuessel re-newed the coalition between the OeVP and FPOe.

Election results 24 November 2002: OeVP 42.3% (79 seats) SPOe 36.9% (69) FPOe 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 Herbert HAUPT (FPOe) (since 28 February 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 plurality party in the National Council; in the case of the current coalition, the chancellor was chosen from another party after the plurality party failed to form a government; 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 - FPOe and OeVP

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)
elections: National Council - last held 3 October 1999 (next to be held in the fall of 2003)
election results: National Council - percent of vote by party - SPOe 33.2%, OeVP 26.9%, FPOe 26.9%, Greens 7.4%; seats by party - SPOe 65, OeVP 52, FPOe 52, Greens 14

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 KPOe [Walter BAIER, chairman]; Freedom Party of Austria or FPOe [Herbert HAUPT, chairman]; Liberal Forum or LF [Heide SCHMIDT] (dissolved); Social Democratic Party of Austria or SPOe [Alfred GUSENBAUER, chairman]; The Greens or GA [Alexander VAN DER BELLEN, party spokesman]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Austrian Trade Union Federation (primarily Socialist) or OeGB; Federal Economic Chamber; OeVP-oriented League of Austrian Industrialists or VOeI; Roman Catholic Church, including its chief lay organization, Catholic Action; three composite leagues of the Austrian People's Party or OeVP representing business, labor, and farmers

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

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