The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War led to the creation of the first Austrian Republic (1918–1933/34). In 1920 the first Austrian Republic adopted a federal constitution that remains in force today. The constitution itself has been revised several times and every revision has contributed to a strengthening of the federal level of the Austrian political system.
Incorporated into Nazi Germany in 1938, Austria once again became a federal state following the victory of the Allies over Germany in 1945. The 1920 Austrian federal constitution was subsequently reinstated with all its revisions and pre-1934 legislation. Austria regained its sovereignty in 1955 in exchange for a constitutional guarantee of its permanent neutrality, and became a member of the European Union in 1995.
Austria is a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic consisting of 9 states (known as Länder). The Federal Chancellor is the Head of Government, and the Federal President acts as Head of State. Executive power is exercised by both local and federal governments. Federal legislative power lies with both the government and the two chambers of parliament: the Federal Council (upper house); and the National Council (lower house). The judiciary is independent of both the executive and legislature and is exclusively federal in nature.
Each Austrian state has its own elected legislature, a state government, and a governor. However, Austria’s federalism is much weaker than many other federal nations and while the federal constitution initially granted all legislative powers to the states, many of these have been subsequently eroded. Criminal, civil, corporate law, defense policy, the majority of economic policy, and most educational and healthcare policy is federally regulated.
Consequently, Austria’s federalism is usually characterized as being highly centralized. Many Austrians have pushed to strengthen federalism in this central European nation. A constitutional convention established in 2003 made no major changes, although electoral reforms were enacted.
Austria remains a country of “unitary” federalism – i.e. one in which regional power is clearly subordinated to federal power.