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Meetings Calendar 2006
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Federal Constitution

 

Origin of the Austrian Constitution

After the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, the German-Austrian State emerged in 1918, which was regarded as part of the German Republic. In the Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, however, the victorious powers in the First World War forbade Austria to unite with Germany.

Hans Kelsen, professor of constitutional law, was entrusted with drawing up a new constitution for the Republic of Austria. Kelsen was the leading representative of the school of legal positivism, which was the antithesis of a constitutional approach founded in natural law. This basic concept still remains anchored in the Austrian federal constitution to this day.

In 1920, the federal constitutional law (B-VG) was adopted on the basis of Kelsen’s work. This law defines Austria as a democratic, republican and federal State, in which the principle of the separation of legislative power, executive power and the judiciary, as well as the principle of the rule of law and a comprehensive catalogue of fundamental rights, are applied.

The B-VG was amended in 1929, thereby granting considerably wider powers to the Federal President and hence giving greater status to the highest State authority.

In 1933, Federal Chancellor Dollfuss took advantage of a constitutionally unclear situation in Parliament to temporarily govern by emergency decree without Parliament. In 1934, a new constitution was passed which established an authoritarian corporative state. With the occupation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938 (“Anschluss”), the country’s independent legal development was interrupted until the fall of the Third Reich.

Even before the end of the Second World War, the leaders of Austria’s main political parties decided in April 1945 to re-establish a free and independent Austria. The B-VG came back into force in the same year, thereby establishing constitutional continuity from the First to the Second Republic.

Following 10 years of occupation by the allied powers, Austria signed the State Treaty at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna and regained full sovereignty. On 26 October 1955, the first day on which Austria was free from all occupying troops, the National Council adopted the federal constitutional law on permanent neutrality.

Compared with other legal systems, the body of Austrian constitutional law is relatively easy to amend (two-thirds majority in the National Council), and there is no obligation to incorporate amendments into the B-VG; therefore, constitutional provisions are found in various other laws. Hitherto, efforts to codify the federal constitution have proved unsuccessful.

The most recent move for a comprehensive constitutional reform was the “Austria Convention”, which submitted its report in January 2005 after two years’ work. From now on, further state and constitutional reform will be discussed in the National Council.

Date: 11.01.2006