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Austria - Government

On March 4, 1933 parliamentary democracy in Austria was suspended. From March 13, 1938 onwards Austria was occupied by the German Reich and thus prevented from exercising its sovereign power. It remained part of the Third Reich until April 1945. As had been the case with the First Republic (1918-1938), it was the political parties that founded the Second Republic after Austria's liberation in April 1945.

The three anti-fascist parties - the Socialist Party of Austria (SP, now Social Democratic Party of Austria), the Christian Social Party (now Austrian People's Party (VP), and the Communist Party of Austria (KP) reached an agreement on the formation of a Provisional State Government headed by Karl Renner (1870-1950) and on the proclamation of Austria's independence.

This Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on April 27, 1945. The first two Articles read as follows: Article I: The democratic Republic of Austria is restored and shall be instituted in the spirit of the Constitution of 1920. Article II: The annexation enforced on the Austrian people in 1938 is declared null and void.

The Austrian Constitution is based on the principles of a republican, democratic and federal state, the principle of the rule of law, and the principle of the separation of legislative and executive powers and the separation of jurisdiction and administration.

The Federal President of Austria is the Head of State elected by the Austrian people for a term of six years. He is the only representative of the entire country who is elected directly by the population. The list of the Federal Presidents powers was established in the 1929 constitutional amendment, which attributed more powers to the President than did the Constitution of 1920.

In addition to his powers rooted in the Constitution, it is the Federal President's responsibility to offer moral support to his country. In particular, his tasks include the integration of minorities into the political process and the protection of the democracy. Extensive experience in politics, a steady positioning within the population, competence in all spheres of life and the political arena, and non-partisanship are seen as essential prerequisites for a presidential candidate. By means of this combination of constitutional rights and the above powers of the President, the state can thus efficiently guarantee the separation of powers.

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.

The Austrian Federal Chancellor is the head of government. The Chancellor and the other members of the Austrian Cabinet chosen upon the Chancellor's advice are appointed or removed from office by the Federal President of Austria (head of state). Neither the appointment of the Chancellor nor the appointment of the members of the Austrian Cabinet needs to be confirmed by the Austrian Parliament. However, the Parliament can pass a vote of no confidence against individual members of the Cabinet or the entire administration. As a consequence, the Cabinet or the respective Minister would have to resign. The Chancellor countersigns the federal acts executed by the President. If the President is unavailable, all his duties are assigned to the Chancellor for a period of up to 20 days.

The Federal Assembly (Parliament) consists of two houses--the National Council (Nationalrat), or lower house, and the Federal Council (Bundesrat), or upper house. Legislative authority resides in the National Council. Its 183 members serve for a maximum term of 4 years in a three-tiered system, on the basis of proportional representation. The National Council may dissolve itself by a simple majority vote or the president may dissolve it on the recommendation of the Chancellor. The nine state legislatures elect the 62 members of the Federal Council for 5- 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. While the Supreme Court is the court of highest instance for the judiciary, the Administrative Court acts as the supervisory body over government administrative acts of the executive branch, and the Constitutional Court presides over constitutional issues. The Federal President appoints the justices of the three courts for specific terms.

The legislatures of Austria's nine Bundeslaender (states) elect the governors. Although most authority, including that of the police, rests with the federal government, the states have considerable responsibility for welfare matters and local administration. Strong state and local loyalties have roots in tradition and history.

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