Chancellor and Cabinet

Austria Table of Contents

The chancellor (prime minister) is the head of government as well as chairman of the cabinet. Executive political power formally rests in the hands of the cabinet. The chancellor, the cabinet, and their working majority in the Nationalrat are the real focal point of executive power in the political system. The chancellor is appointed by the president and can also be dismissed by him. The chancellor is usually the leader of the party that has won the most seats in the latest parliamentary election. At the very least, he or she is the choice of a majority of the new deputies. The chancellor must be eligible to serve in the Nationalrat but need not be a member of it. The chancellor also serves as head of the Federal Chancellery, which is staffed with civil servants.

In most respects, the chancellor functions as first among equals in the cabinet. He coordinates the work of the cabinet but is not entitled to give orders to individual ministers. However, the chancellor's power varies depending on political circumstances and his own political gifts. In a coalition government, the chancellor shares coordinating duties with the vice chancellor, who is the leader of the junior party in the coalition. If the chancellor heads a one-party government, his or her leeway to make decisions is increased. During the long period of rule under Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (1970-83), the public visibility of the chancellor was enhanced through the increased use of television. From the standpoint of the public, the chancellor had become the dominant figure of government.

On recommendation by the chancellor, the president appoints individuals to the various cabinet positions. Cabinet members do not have to be members of the Nationalrat, but they must be eligible to be elected to it. Persons chosen as cabinet ministers are usually leading members of a political party or interest group. Occasionally, however, a person has entered the cabinet from a high-level civil service position.

The number of ministries varies; in 1993 there were fourteen ministries. In a coalition government, the apportionment of the cabinet posts is roughly proportional to the parties' respective strengths in the Nationalrat. The awarding of particular posts is based on a coalition agreement reached between the two parties.

In keeping with the traditional Austrian principle of Proporz (the dividing of political offices according to the respective strengths and interests of the parties), parties name individuals to posts of particular concern to them. For example, if the SP÷ is a member of the coalition, at a minimum it names the minister for labor and social affairs, in keeping with the strong support it enjoys from the trade unions. By the same token, if the ÷VP is part of the coalition, it names the minister for agriculture and forestry because farmers are one of its main interest groups. The chancellor and vice chancellor do not have total control over the selection process for filling cabinet positions. For example, the SP÷ faction in the Austrian Trade Union Federation (÷sterreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund--÷GB) usually chooses the minister for labor and social affairs, and the ÷VP is careful to allow its various auxiliary associations and provincial parties to make certain selections. Beginning in 1987, the ÷VP and SP÷ have followed a practice of selecting an independent to head the Ministry for Justice.

The cabinet is subject to dismissal by the president and the Nationalrat. The president can dismiss the entire cabinet without the concurrence of the chancellor, but removal of individual members requires the recommendation of the chancellor. If the Nationalrat passes a vote of no confidence--which requires that one-half of the deputies be present--concerning the entire cabinet or a minister, the cabinet or minister is removed from office.

State secretaries are appointed and leave office in the same manner as ministers, but each government ministry does not have a state secretary. State secretaries aid ministers in parliamentary business and are bound by their ministers' instructions. They are nonvoting participants in cabinet sessions. A state secretary is not necessarily a member of the same party as the minister he serves.

More about the Government Institutions.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress