Minister (Austria)
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In Austrian constitutional law, a minister (german: Bundesminister, lit=federal minister) is a member of the
national cabinet National Cabinet is the Australian intergovernmental decision-making forum composed of the prime minister A prime minister or a premier is the head of the cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-sha ...
. Most ministers are responsible for a specific area of Austrian
public administration Public administration is the implementation of government policy Public policy is a course of action created and/or enacted, typically by a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, g ...
and stand at the head of a specific department of the Austrian bureaucracy;
ministers without portfolioA minister without portfolio is either a government minister with no specific responsibilities or a minister who does not head a particular ministry (government department), ministry. The sinecure is particularly common in countries ruled by coalitio ...
exist and used to be common in the
First Austrian Republic The First Austrian Republic (german: Republik Österreich) was created after the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919), Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 10 September 1919—the settlement after the end of World War I which ende ...
but are rare today. Most ministers control a ministry; some ministers control a section () of the Chancellery, the ministry headed by the
chancellor Chancellor ( la, links=no, cancellarius) is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the ''cancellarii Cancelli are lattice-work, placed before a window, a door-way, the tribunal o ...
. A minister is the supreme executive organ within his or her area of responsibility: ministers do not take orders from either the
president President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a chief executive officer ...
or the chancellor; their decisions are subject to
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administration of state bureaucracy * Executive, ...
but cannot be overruled by any other part of the
executive branch The executive (short for executive branch or executive power) is the part of government that enforces law, and has Moral responsibility, responsibility for the governance of a State (polity), state. In political systems based on the principle ...
.


Terminology

The Federal Constitutional Law, the backbone of the Austrian constitution, states that "the
government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Departmen ...
consists of the
chancellor Chancellor ( la, links=no, cancellarius) is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the ''cancellarii Cancelli are lattice-work, placed before a window, a door-way, the tribunal o ...
, the
vice chancellor A chancellor is a leader of a college or university, usually either the executive or ceremonial head of the university or of a university campus within a university system A university system is a set of multiple affiliated universities and coll ...
, and the other ministers" (""). The Austrian general public usually does not think of the chancellor and the vice chancellor as "ministers". In the popular media and in everyday language in general, chancellor and vice chancellor are almost always referred to by their titles; the word "ministers" is almost always used to mean ministers chancellor and vice chancellor. Additionally, the state secretaries are sometimes referred to as members of the government. Legally, however, "minister" and "member of government" ("", "") are exactly synonymous.


Powers and responsibilities


Administration

Generally speaking, a minister is responsible for a specific topic area of
public administration Public administration is the implementation of government policy Public policy is a course of action created and/or enacted, typically by a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, g ...
: the minister of the interior is responsible e.g. for public safety and for the correct conduct of elections and plebiscites; the minister of finance is responsible for tax collection, the preparation of budgets, and for certain aspects of economic policy; the minister of education runs the public school system; the minister of justice provides administrative assistance and facilities management for the
judiciary The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and court or judiciary system) is the system of court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government i ...
; and so on. The minister is assisted by a department usually, although not always, called a ministry (german: Bundesministerium, lit=federal ministry). Ministers can be given control of more than one ministry. Within his or her area of responsibility, the minister is the supreme executive organ. He or she is vested with management authority (), meaning the minister is in charge of setting policy, of most personnel decisions, and of the internal governance and discipline of their respective departments. He or she also has injunction authority (), the power to issue orders () to the civil servants in their respective departments that require or prohibit specific substantive acts and decisions. Both powers follow from the postulate that supreme executive organs hold ultimate responsibility; an organ cannot be considered responsible for what it cannot effectively control. There are departures from this general principle, however. Some subdivisions of ministerial bureaucracies can be declared "independent" ("") by law; an "independent" subdivision is subject to management authority but not injunction authority.


Delegated presidential powers

An important part of the responsibilities of most ministers is personnel decisions. Austria distinguishes between two basic types of civil servants: a is a regular employee subject to regular labor law; a is a career civil servant with an effective lifetime appointment – a can only be terminated for cause and enjoys robust protections against unfavorable transfer or reassignment. The class of civil servants of rank, the , includes judges, prosecutors, military officers, police officers, full professors at public universities, and all senior administrators. In the past, it also used to include most other government workers, from local revenue office clerks to school teachers. As a general rule, the responsibility for appointing national-level is vested in the
president President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a chief executive officer ...
. The constitution permits the president to delegate most of these appointments to the relevant ministers, however. Appointments of members of the
Constitutional Court A constitutional court is a high court High court usually refers to the superior court In common law systems, a superior court is a court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Ad ...
and the Supreme Administrative Court have to be made by the president personally, but appointments of the benches of general courts, for example, can be delegated to the minister of justice. Presidents make liberal use of their ability to delegate personnel decisions. With the exception of members of top courts, principals of public secondary schools, and a few handfuls of top-level ministry bureaucrats, prosecutors, and army brass, are appointed by ministers. Another power the president can and does delegate to ministers is the right to conclude international treaties.


Council of Ministers

While every minister is a one-person supreme executive organ within his or her designated topic area, there are several types of decisions with respect to which the supreme executive organ is the cabinet as a whole. Exercising the powers vested in the cabinet requires a formal resolution passed in a formal plenary session; the quorum is one half plus one of the ministers. Informally, the body of ministers meeting to discharge the collective responsibilities of the cabinet is often called the
Council of Ministers The Council of Ministers is a traditional name given to the supreme Executive (government), executive organ in some governments. The term is usually equivalent to the word "Cabinet (government), cabinet" (Council of state, Council of State is a simi ...

Council of Ministers
(). The term is colloquial; it does not appear in the constitution. Legally, a session of the Council of Ministers () is simply a session of the cabinet ().


Eligibility

Prospective ministers must be eligible for election to the
National CouncilNational Council may refer to: Conservation * National Council for Science and the Environment, a US-based non-profit organization which has a mission to improve the scientific basis for environmental decisionmaking * National Council for the Cons ...
. In essence, this means they need to be Austrian nationals, need to be at least 18 years of age, and cannot have lost the right to stand as a candidate as a result of a criminal conviction. Generally speaking, Austria does not strip convicts of either the right to vote or the right to run, but criminal courts may pronounce a defendant temporarily disqualified if the defendant * has been sentenced to a jail term of at least one year for treason, espionage, terrorism, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, for an attempt to undermine national security, for attempting to blackmail or intimidate justices, legislators, or senior administrators, for attempting to compromise an election or a plebiscite, or for attempting to undermine Austria's neutrality or Austria's foreign relations; * has been sentenced to a jail term of at least five years for some other premeditated act. Parts of the sentence suspended for probation do not count. The disqualification is automatically lifted once the sentence has been served. Ministers are subject to incompatibility rules. The
president President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a chief executive officer ...
, a member of the
Constitutional Court A constitutional court is a high court High court usually refers to the superior court In common law systems, a superior court is a court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Ad ...
, Supreme Administrative Court, or
Supreme Court of Justice A supreme court is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts in many legal jurisdictions. Other descriptions for such courts include court of last resort, apex court, and high (or final) court of appeal. Broadly speaking, the decisions of ...
cannot serve as a minister; neither can the president of the
Court of Auditors A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''St ...
. There are no rules against legislators being ministers. Ministers cannot hold for-profit, private-sector employment, although they may be exempt from this provision by the National Council's Incompatibility Committee () if the committee is satisfied there is no conflict of interest. Ministers may hold honorary positions but have to report them to the committee. Ministers may hold stakes in for-profit companies, but any such stakes too have to be reported; if a minister and his or her spouse jointly control more than 25% of a corporation, that corporation is automatically excluded from public procurement.


Appointment

Ministers are appointed by the
president President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a chief executive officer ...
. The chancellor is appointed by the president unilaterally; ministers other than the chancellor are appointed on nomination by the chancellor. In theory, the president can also dismiss ministers: the chancellor can be removed unilaterally; individual ministers other than the chancellor can only be removed on request by the chancellor. The president can also remove, again unilaterally, the entire cabinet at once. In practice, the president does not forcibly dismiss either ministers or cabinets; they resign. The fact that the cabinet is installed by the president, who is elected directly by the people, and not by parliament is one of the features of the Austrian constitution that impart a
semi-presidential A semi-presidential system or dual executive system is a system of government in which a president exists alongside a prime minister and a cabinet, with the latter being responsible to the legislature of the state. It differs from a parliam ...
appearance to the country. The appearance is superficial; as a matter of political reality, Austria is a
parliamentary A parliamentary system or parliamentary democracy is a system of democratic Democrat, Democrats, or Democratic may refer to: *A proponent of democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' an ...
republic. The main reason is that ministers are politically answerable not only to the president but to the legislature as well. The president is required to dismiss any minister the National Council censures with a
motion of no confidence A motion of no confidence, vote of no confidence, or no confidence motion, sometimes in the reverse as a motion of confidence or vote of confidence, is a statement or vote Voting is a method for a group, such as a meeting or an Constituenc ...
. The National Council can also order to president to dismiss the entire cabinet. As a result, the president is more or less forced to appoint as chancellor whichever majority leader the legislature preselects. Austrian presidents gladly accept that their role is that of
figurehead In politics, a figurehead is a person who ''de jure In law and government, ''de jure'' ( ; , "by law") describes practices that are legally recognized, regardless of whether the practice exists in reality. In contrast, ("in fact") descri ...

figurehead
s. The last time an Austrian president rebuked a parliamentary majority leader was in the context of the installation of the first Schüssel government in 1999; President
Thomas Klestil Thomas Klestil (; 4 November 1932 – 6 July 2004) was an Austrian diplomat and politician who served as President of Austria from 1992 to his death in 2004. He was elected in 1992 and re-elected into office in 1998. Biography until 1992 Born ...

Thomas Klestil
first preemptively announced he would refuse to appoint
Jörg Haider Jörg Haider (; 26 January 1950 – 11 October 2008) was an Austrian politician. He was List of governors of Carinthia, Governor of Carinthia (state), Carinthia on two occasions, the long-time leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and ...

Jörg Haider
, then in fact refused Chancellor
Wolfgang Schüssel Wolfgang Schüssel (; born 7 June 1945) is an Austria Austria (, ; german: Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (german: Republik Österreich, links=no, ), is a landlocked Eastern Alps, East Alpine country in the southe ...
's request to appoint
Hilmar Kabas Hilmar Kabas (born 6 January 1942 in Vienna) is an Austrian politician of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). Kabas studied law at the University of Vienna. He was mainly active as a local politician in Vienna and held the position of the state ...
and
Thomas Prinzhorn Thomas Prinzhorn (born 5 March 1943 in Vienna) is an Austrian industrialist and politician of the national liberal party Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). Education Prinzhorn was educated in engineering at the TU Wien, Technical Universi ...
. Even so, motions of no confidence are extremely common; they just never pass. Between 1945 and 2005, opposition parties have submitted no fewer 175 unsuccessful motions of no confidence in order to focus attention and create headlines. There were 65 motions of no confidence in the ten years from 2006 to 2016, i.e. more than six per year. As of 2017, motions of no confidence have been introduced against members of every single cabinet in the history of the Second Austrian Republic. Unable to govern effectively without active majority support in the legislature, and in fact unable to stay in office without at least its tacit toleration, the cabinet derives not just its actual authority but also its abstract political legitimacy from the National Council. It is thus customary for the cabinet to resign not just when the ruling coalition breaks down but also whenever a new National Council is elected. The constitution requires the president to put caretaker ministers in charge of the positions being vacated ("") to prevent disruption of daily operational management of the bureaucracy. In theory, the president could appoint selected departing ministers, state secretaries, or senior civil servants. In practice, the president simply offers to reappoint each minister to the office he or she has just left, the ministers accept; the
caretaker government A caretaker government is a temporary ''ad hoc Ad hoc is a Latin phrase __NOTOC__ This is a list of Wikipedia articles of Latin phrases and their translation into English. To view all phrases on a single, lengthy document, see: * List of Lati ...
is identical to the conventional government preceding it.


Impeachment

In addition to being politically answerable to the president and the legislature, ministers are also legally liable for any misconduct in office. The constitution stipulates that Austria is run according to the principle of the
rule of law The rule of law is defined in the ''Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal of the , published by (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a compreh ...

rule of law
(). Among other things, this means that it is illegal for ministers to try to exercise powers not explicitly vested in them by statute. Ministers accused of not just political malpractice but of culpable violations of actual law can be
impeached Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) ...
before the
Constitutional Court A constitutional court is a high court High court usually refers to the superior court In common law systems, a superior court is a court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Ad ...
. If the court finds the minister guilty, the minister is removed from office. In certain minor cases, the Court can limit itself to merely noting the violation. In extreme cases, the court can strip the defendant of their political rights, although only for a limited term; this would prevent the defendant from holding either a ministry or any other political office for a while.


Special cases


Chancellor

The chancellor is the
head of government The head of government is either the highest or second-highest official in the executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administrat ...
and is set apart from other ministers in several ways: * The chancellor chairs the sessions of the
cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transparent glass sheets or transparent polycarbonate sheets * Filing ...
. * The chancellor is the first minister of any new cabinet to be appointed and represents the cabinet vis-a-vis the president. Ministers other than the chancellor can only be appointed on nomination by the chancellor. The president also needs the chancellor's active cooperation to a minister other than the chancellor. * The chancellor directs the promulgation of parliamentary resolutions, particularly statutes, and of verdicts of the
Constitutional Court A constitutional court is a high court High court usually refers to the superior court In common law systems, a superior court is a court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Ad ...
abrogating statutes. The chancellor is the officer who formally presents bills to be signed into law to the president, and the president's signature only becomes effective with the chancellor's countersignature. * If the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his or her office, the chancellor takes over as acting president for a period of up to twenty days. One power the chancellor notably does not have is , the power to issue directives or policy guidelines to other ministers. On paper, this means that the chancellor is a mere
primus inter pares ''Primus inter pares'' is a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or ...
. In reality, the chancellor's triple role as chairperson of the cabinet, coadjutor of the president, and parliamentary majority leader makes him or her the most powerful person in Austrian politics by a comfortable margin. The ministry the chancellor leads is the Chancellery, the only ministry the constitution actually guarantees to exist.


Vice chancellor

The vice chancellor stands in for the chancellor whenever the chancellor is unavailable. No special resolution or proclamation is necessary for the vice chancellor to become acting chancellor; the vice chancellor simply takes charge wherever expediency requires. If a cabinet session has been scheduled and the chancellor is unable to attend, for instance, the vice chancellor is permitted, and in fact expected, to chair the meeting in the chancellor's stead. In a coalition government, the vice chancellor is usually the leader of the junior coalition party. Ministers belonging to the vice chancellor's party will look to the vice chancellor, not the chancellor, for leadership. The result is that vice chancellors, like chancellors, are more influential in reality than a literal reading of the constitution would suggest. The constitution permits the vice chancellor to be given, in addition to his or her role as the deputy head of the Chancellery, a ministry of his or her own; alternatively, the vice chancellor can be given full autonomous control of a specific Chancellery subdepartment. Since the duties of a vice chancellor by themselves are not particularly taxing, vice chancellors are generally happy to avail themselves of the opportunity.
Heinz-Christian Strache Heinz-Christian Strache (born 12 June 1969) is an Austrian politician and dental technician who served as Vice-Chancellor of Austria from 2017 to 2019 before resigning owing to his involvement in the Ibiza affair. He was also Ministry of Civil Se ...
for example, vice chancellor in the
First Kurz government First or 1st is the ordinal form of the number one (#1). First or 1st may also refer to: *World record A world record is usually the best global and most important performance that is ever recorded and officially verified in a specific skill ...
, doubles as the Chancellery minister of Civil Service and Sports.


Ministers without portfolio

The constitution does not require that every minister be put in charge of a ministry; president and chancellor are free to install
ministers without portfolioA minister without portfolio is either a government minister with no specific responsibilities or a minister who does not head a particular ministry (government department), ministry. The sinecure is particularly common in countries ruled by coalitio ...
. Ministers without portfolio are not a regular occurrence today, but the option is occasionally useful because most Austrian governments are coalition governments; there has not been a single-party cabinet since 1971. The size of a coalition government does not always depend on the number of available ministries alone. In many governments, the relative strengths of the two parties in the National Council call for a seat ratio in the cabinet that is difficult to approximate with the ministries at hand; a supernumerary minister or two can help reach the necessary compromise. Another factor is that different parties cater to different constituencies and therefore demand different areas of responsibility, meaning that the division of responsibilities into portfolios () is highly political. As a consequence, responsibilities keep being shuffled around; ministries are created, dissolved, merged into others, or split in two – usually once per election cycle, sometimes twice or more. A minister designated to lead a ministry that does not yet exist can be made a minister without portfolio for the time being. A typical but notable example is Herta Firnberg, a member of the first Kreisky government. Kreisky had decided to create a Ministry of Women's Affairs. Since creating a new ministry requires a statute to be enacted and promulgated, several weeks would pass between Kreisky taking office and the ministry becoming available. The designated minister – Firnberg – was made a minister without portfolio for the duration of the transitional period.


Chancellery ministers

Instead of a ministry, ministers can also be put in charge of a section () of the Chancellery, the ministry led by the chancellor. Ministers leading Chancellery sections are commonly called "ministers in the Chancellery" ("") or "Chancellery ministers" ("") for short, although neither expression appears in the constitution. The difference between ministers leading ministries and ministers leading Chancellery sections is mostly aesthetic. One the one hand, being the head of a ministry is obviously more prestigious than being the head of merely part of one. A second factor is that Chancellery sections, unlike ministries, can be created or dissolved without involving the legislature and so tend to be naturally more ephemeral. As a result, Chancellery ministers can be considered politically junior to regular ministers. On the other hand, Chancellery ministers are supreme executive organ (Austria), supreme executive organs within their respective domains just like regular ministers. Even though the chancellor can create Chancellery sections without having to wait for statutes to be passed and promulgated, the process can take time. As a result, Chancellery ministers too sometimes start their tenures in the cabinet as ministers without portfolio. As of September 2018, the most recent example is Gernot Blümel, minister of European affairs, the Art, Culture and the Media in the
First Kurz government First or 1st is the ordinal form of the number one (#1). First or 1st may also refer to: *World record A world record is usually the best global and most important performance that is ever recorded and officially verified in a specific skill ...
. Blümel was first sworn in as a minister without portfolio on December 18, 2017, then sworn in again as a Chancellery minister on January 8, 2018.


Citations


References

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * {{cite web, author-last1=Welan, author-first1=Manfred, title=Regierungsbildung insbesondere 1999/2000, date=2000, url=https://wpr.boku.ac.at/wpr_dp/dp-80.pdf, access-date=September 28, 2018 Politics of Austria Government of Austria Constitution of Austria