Legislative and executive power in Austria takes place on three levels:
Legislative power in Austria is exercised by both the National Council and the Federal Council. The National Council is directly elected by the people, while the representatives of the Federal Council are delegated by the provincial parliaments in proportion to the number of mandates held by the parties. The National Council and the Federal Council together form the Federal Assembly. Both legislative bodies are located in the Austrian Parliament.
The National Council plays a far greater role in Austrian politics than the Federal Council. On the one hand, it is directly legitimised by free elections, on the other hand, the Federal Government is responsible exclusively towards the National Council.
The National Council consists of 183 members of parliament. These are elected by the Austrian people (persons aged 16 and more are eligible to vote) in an equal, direct, personal, free and secret election. Only Austrian citizens aged 18 and more can run for a National Council mandate. For a nationwide candidacy, 2,600 declarations of support are required. The parliamentarians belong to a political party, an electoral list or an electoral alliance. Depending on the share of votes achieved and the distribution of mandates, a corresponding number of representatives of the respective party (list or electoral alliance) is represented in the National Council. In Austria, there is a so-called "four-percent hurdle", i.e. parties that do not achieve this percentage of valid electoral votes cannot enter the National Council. The percentage hurdle was introduced to avoid the difficulty of forming a government by many small parties in parliament. Elections to the National Council take place every five years.
Austrian parliamentarians have political immunity, which can only be waived by the National Council itself. Moreover, they are free to exercise their mandate and are not bound by any directives. Nevertheless, it is common for representatives of the same fraction to vote consistently.
At the first session of a new National Council, a National Council President and two deputies are elected from among the 183 deputies, who preside alternating.
Responsibilites of the national council
Austrian federal laws are passed in the National Council. Legislative initiatives can be introduced by the federal government, by members of parliament, by the Federal Council or by citizens - via referendums. Most legislative initiatives originate from the federal government.
After a motion has been introduced, three "readings" (expert appraisal and discussion) are scheduled in the National Council. Subsequently, the representatives vote on the bill. If it is approved, it is forwarded to the Federal Council for review. If the Federal Council also gives its approval - a rejection only has a suspensive effect - the law is certified by the Federal President and countersigned by the Federal Chancellor. The Federal President only can reject a law due to formal or obvious unconstitutional causes.
The National Council comprises committees that deal with specific topics (e.g. budget/finance, foreign policy, social affairs, education). The National Council plenum can assign legislative initiatives to these committees for closer examination and discussion. Parliamentary committees can also introduce legislative initiatives on their own.
Participation in the implementation of the federation
The National Council may support the Federal Government and the Federal President in the performance of their duties. This concerns, for example, the conclusion of state treaties, the appointment of members of the Constitutional Court or the election of the President of the Austrian Court of Audit.
The National Council exercises some rights of control towards the federal administration. These include e.g.
- Questions to the Federal Government (right of interpellation)
- Establishment of committees of enquiry (right of investigation)
- Filing actions against ministers in case of violation of the law at the Constitutional Court (ministerial impeachment)
- Submitting a vote of non-confidence against members of the government or the entire federal government.
The Bundesrat represents the provinces at federal level. The members are delegated by the Federal parliaments, but are not responsible to them in their activities. It is chaired by the President of the Bundesrat.
The Federal Council has little influence on Austrian politics. Its main competence is to discuss and comment on laws passed by the National Council. In case of rejection, it may postpone the law, but not declare it completely invalid.
The members of the National Council and the Federal Council together form the Federal Assembly as the third parliamentary body. As a rule, the Federal Assembly is convened by the Federal President. Its competences mainly concern the Federal President (e.g. swearing-in ceremony, removal or impeachment proceedings).
The respective parliament of a province is the Landtag (provincial parliament). Its deputies are elected in general, equal, direct, secret and personal elections by the inhabitants of the respective federal province. The legislative period is five years in all federal provinces (exception: Upper Austria six years). The majority of legislative proposals are introduced as government bills. Legislative initiatives can also be introduced through motions by Landtag members and Landtag committees or as a petition for a referendum. In some federal provinces, municipalities also have the right of initiative.
The Landtag passes provincial laws in defined areas (e.g. youth protection, kindergarten system, social welfare) in accordance with the Federal Constitution. The provincial parliaments elect and control the provincial governments and appoint their representatives in the Federal Council, depending on the political strength of the newly elected provincial parliament.
Austrian municipalities elect a municipal council responsible for local agendas (e.g. school maintenance, spatial planning, security or culture). The municipal council is chaired by the mayor, who is directly elected by the citizens in most federal provinces, in Lower Austria, Styria and Vienna by the members of the municipal council. Both Austrian citizens and residential EU citizens are entitled to vote.
The highest executive bodies at federal level are the Federal President, the Federal Chancellor, the federal ministers and state secretaries.
The Austrian Federal President is elected by popular vote by universal, equal, direct, secret and personal election for a term of six years.
The Federal President has some important powers under the Austrian Constitution, such as :
- External representation of the Republic
- Entrusting a party with the formation of a government
- Appointment of the Federal Chancellor and the federal ministers and state secretaries
- Swearing-in ceremony of the provincial governors
- Appointment of judges
- Supreme command over the federal armed forces
De facto, the role of the Federal President is to be a mediator between the powers of the state in domestic policy and the highest diplomatic representative abroad in foreign policy.
Next to the Federal President, the Federal Government is the most important supreme organ of the federal administration. It conducts the political business of the Republic. One of its most important tasks is the preparation of draft legislation.
A federal government consists of the Federal Chancellor at its head, the Vice-Chancellor, the federal ministers and state secretaries. However, the federal government is a collegial body, i.e. the Chancellor has no direct authority over the federal ministers.
The members of the government form the council of ministers, which meets regularly and makes decisions.
Other executive bodies at federal level are, for example, the police or the federal armed forces.
The executive function at the provincial level is exercised by the provincial government. It consists of the governor, his deputies and the provincial councillors. The provincial government is elected by the provincial parliament.
The provincial governor chairs the provincial government. His duties include representing his country at national and international level, coordinating all regional authorities in the event of crises, and chairing and swearing in the provincial government.
The Conference of Provincial Governors as a regular informal meeting of the nine provincial governors is considered the most important body at the provincial level in terms of “realpolitik”.
Ministries involved in education and training
is responsible for the entire school system, from primary to upper secondary level, for adult education and the topic of "lifelong learning". The BMBWF also is in charge of Universities, universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education as well as for related research activities..
is responsible for all agendas concerning dual training (apprenticeship training)..
is the supreme oversight for education and training for nursing and health care professions (ISCED 351, 353, 454, 665 and 767 as well as NQF levels 6 and 7). It is also entrusted with improving the labour market opportunities of school leavers and supporting unemployed persons..
is responsible for the maintenance and staffing of higher-level schools of agriculture and forestry..
- The Austrian Federal Minister for Women, Family, Youth and Integration in the Federal Chancellery (BMFFJ)
is organisationally integrated into the Federal Chancellery. It makes available the school books in co-operation with the BMBWF as part of the so-called “school book initiative” [legal regulation in the Family Support Act (FLAG)]..
- The Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK)
is responsible for federally funded research, technology and innovation.
- The Federal Ministry of Defence (BMLV)
is responsible for the training of basic conscripts and professional soldiers.