Austria: From Consensus to Competition and Participation?

Franz Fallend

in The Oxford Handbook of Local and Regional Democracy in Europe

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199562978
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

Austria: From Consensus to Competition and Participation?

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  • Regional Political Studies
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Austria is a democratic republic wherein constitutionally, state power is federalized into nine provinces and 357 municipalities which are organized as self-governing bodies. However, in reality, major political parties and their predecessors have dominated Austrian politics. As a result, neither federalism nor local government have been fully developed. This article discusses the political structure of Austria. It focuses on the democracy of the nation which is marked by highly congruent structures and processes at all territorial levels. All the territorial levels are marked by parliamentary system dominated by the national state; consensus policy-making within the elite; elite-centred politics; and underdeveloped participatory democracy. All of this holds true despite changes in globalization and in national state requirements for a new differentiation. At the turn of the century, a new differentiation emerged wherein an agreement-based model of administration shifted towards a conflict- and competition-oriented based model. This shift caused municipalities to move away from the inherited and inflexible corporatism and towards a more open and flexible network structure. Although these new instruments have opened avenues for citizens, the Austrian people have used such instruments only reluctantly. At the same time political elites have also strived to maintain their grip on their dominating role in politics. Despite criticisms on the undemocratic nature and liability of internal blocking, the Proporz governments are still institutionalized in five provinces and the new regional development organizations which have been created to catalyze economic impulses have only coordinating and consultative functions. This suggests time will have to pass before changes will penetrate the deeply imbedded state traditions of Austria.

Keywords: Austria; state; Austrian politics; political parties; federalism; local government; democracy; consensus; elite-centred politics; Proporz governments

Article.  8819 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Regional Political Studies ; Comparative Politics

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