Austria

   

Executive Capacity

#23
Key Findings
With a Federal Chancellery that coordinates but is not superior to other ministries, Austria’s executive capacity falls into the middle ranks in international comparison (rank 23). Its score on this measure remains unchanged relative to 2014.

The country’s ministers, including the chancellor, are all deemed to be of equal status. The structural necessity for coalition governments demands collegiality, but limits planning, self-monitoring and public-debate capabilities. Ministers are more loyal to party agendas than to overall government strategies. However, a new system of interministerial working groups promises to improve strategic capacity.

A decline in the government-coalition parties, illustrated by the failure of both to reach the final round in 2016’s presidential vote, has exacerbated tensions and undermined communication coherence. The federal states are constitutionally weak but politically influential. Delegated tasks are typically funded adequately.

Societal consultation with economic and all major religious groups is legally formalized. A new legal basis for the Islamic community promises to improve consultation mechanisms with this fast-growing population. The country is slow to engage with some international initiatives, using the country’s neutral status as a pretext for staying aloof.

Strategic Capacity

#22

How much influence do strategic planning units and bodies have on government decision-making?

10
 9

Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions, and they exercise strong influence on government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Their influence on government decision-making is systematic but limited in issue scope or depth of impact.
 5
 4
 3


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Occasionally, they exert some influence on government decision-making.
 2
 1

In practice, there are no units and bodies taking a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions.
Strategic Planning
6
The strategic capacity of the Austrian executive is limited by the lack of clear majorities in the federal parliament and in most of the state (provincial) parliaments. With some exceptions, no party can claim to have a mandate to implement a set of policies agreed to by a majority of voters and members of parliament. Rather, coalitions must be formed, a process with clear advantages and clear disadvantages. On the one hand, executive responsibility is blurred, as the presence of too many veto players prevent the development of consistent strategic capacity. On the other, coalitions enable a more inclusive government. Political decision-making in Austria is still characterized by a tendency to prefer a maximum of consensus, even at the price of postponing necessary decisions and shying away from taboos identified with the interests of special groups (such as public service unions or organized agrarian interests).

Strategic-planning units and bodies consisting of public officials do exist within the ministries. The Federal Chancellery can be considered the principal strategic-planning unit, as it is responsible for coordinating the government’s various activities. However, it lacks the specialized personnel that would enable it to work as a comprehensive strategy unit, and has no power to give instructions to other ministries.

After the 2013 general elections, the two biggest parties decided to once again re-establish their coalition government despite electoral losses. As a further decline of their strength in future elections seems likely (which means that the formation of government coalitions of only two parties is becoming increasingly unlikely), the new coalition could have been an opportunity (possibly the last one for the foreseeable future) to create new (i.e., more efficient) structures in the political system that will help the country address emerging challenges. But the governing parties have to date not met expectations in this respect.

How influential are non-governmental academic experts for government decisionmaking?

10
 9

In almost all cases, the government transparently consults with a panel of non-governmental academic experts at an early stage of government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


For major political projects, the government transparently consults with a panel of non-governmental academic experts at an early stage of government decision-making.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government transparently consults with a panel of non-governmental academic experts at an early stage of government decision-making.
 2
 1

The government does not consult with non-governmental academic experts, or existing consultations lack transparency entirely and/or are exclusively pro forma.
Scholarly Advice
5
Due to the fragmented structure of the cabinet, there is no coherent pattern of using scholarly advice. The extent to which each ministry seeks systematic academic advice is up to the individual minister.

Economic and financial policy is the only area in which general scholarly advice is commonly sought and available. Two institutions, established respectively by the social partners (the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung)) and through a mix of public and independent funding (the Institute for Advanced Studies (Institut für Höhere Studien) regularly articulate specific opinions such as economic forecasts. Governments typically take these two institutions’ work into account when making policy.

Both institutes have an excellent reputation concerning their academic quality and independence, but they are nevertheless structurally (financially) dependent on government actors. Except on immigration and pension policy, there is no regular academic advisory board, as exists in Germany or the U.S.

Interministerial Coordination

#38

Does the government office / prime minister’s office (GO / PMO) have the expertise to evaluate ministerial draft bills substantively?

10
 9

The GO / PMO has comprehensive sectoral policy expertise and provides regular, independent evaluations of draft bills for the cabinet / prime minister. These assessments are guided exclusively by the government’s strategic and budgetary priorities.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO has sectoral policy expertise and evaluates important draft bills.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO can rely on some sectoral policy expertise, but does not evaluate draft bills.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not have any sectoral policy expertise. Its role is limited to collecting, registering and circulating documents submitted for cabinet meetings.
GO Expertise
5
Two aspects of Austria’s governance system limit the efficiency of interministerial coordination. First, members of the cabinet (“Ministerrat,” which is officially translated as the Council of Ministers but is essentially a cabinet) all enjoy the same legal status. The federal chancellor, who chairs the cabinet, is only first among equals. He or she has no formal authority over the other members of the council. Secondly, with the exception of the years between 1966 and 1983, Austria has been governed by coalitions since 1945. This further reduces the authority of the head of government, as another member of the government – typically the vice-chancellor, is head of another part in the coalition. The result is a significant fragmentation of strategic capacities. Responsibility within the government is distributed among highly autonomous ministers and among political parties linked by a coalition agreement but nevertheless competing for votes.

The Federal Chancellery does have a department called the Legal and Constitutional Service (Verfassungsdienst), which is responsible for checking the constitutionality of policy proposals coming from the various ministries. Another instrument of oversight is the evaluation of policy effects (Wirkungsorientierte Folgenabschätzung, WFA) that as of 2013 must be integrated into every policy proposal. Under this policy, every draft law has to include an evaluation of its effects in financial, social and other terms, thus enabling other members of government to evaluate its consequences. The cabinet is de facto a collective leadership, complicated by the conflicting interests of coalition partners.

The 2013 elections and the resulting coalition government, which consists of the same two parties, have not led to any significant changes regarding interministerial coordination. However, in 2016 when a new chancellor created the term “New Deal” to signify improved strategic planning within the cabinet, new interministerial working groups (reflecting the balance between the two coalition partners) were established and are expected to make potentially significant policy proposals.

Can the government office / prime minister’s office return items envisaged for the cabinet meeting on the basis of policy considerations?

10
 9

The GO/PMO can return all/most items on policy grounds.
 8
 7
 6


The GO/PMO can return some items on policy grounds.
 5
 4
 3


The GO/PMO can return items on technical, formal grounds only.
 2
 1

The GO/PMO has no authority to return items.
GO Gatekeeping
5
Although the chancellor chairs cabinet meetings, his or her office is not in practice able to control meeting agendas. The cabinet is a body of equals and must reach unanimity in its decisions. The chancellor is first among equals only. In advance of each formal cabinet meeting, coalition parties internally coordinate issues within their party. In a second step, issues identified as potentially subject to opposition or veto by other coalition parties are sent for discussion to an informal group usually comprised of one cabinet member from each party. If agreement concerning a specific proposal does not seem possible, the item will not be placed on the cabinet’s agenda.

The Chancellor’s Office’s only true gatekeeping privilege involves its capacity to oversee the constitutionality of policy proposals. The Legal and Constitutional Service of the Chancellor’s Office is widely respected for pursuing a nonpartisan agenda. If this department identifies a proposal as a potential violation of the constitution, the proposal is either put aside or sent back to the originating ministry for revision.

Apart from constitutional matters, the chancellor’s gatekeeping powers are restricted to his or her own party. As head of government, the chancellor can informally return materials within his or her own party’s cabinet faction, as can the vice-chancellor within his or her cabinet faction.

The chancellor’s position may have been strengthened by the following recent development: The Treaty of Lisbon has reduced the numbers of national participants at the meeting of the European Council to one. Within the context of a coalition cabinet such as that currently in place in Austria, the single Austrian representative – the chancellor (currently a social democrat) gains political visibility and this can be interpreted as eroding the political significance of the foreign minister (currently a conservative).

To what extent do line ministries involve the government office/prime minister’s office in the preparation of policy proposals?

10
 9

There are inter-related capacities for coordination in the GO/PMO and line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO/PMO is regularly briefed on new developments affecting the preparation of policy proposals.
 5
 4
 3


Consultation is rather formal and focuses on technical and drafting issues.
 2
 1

Consultation occurs only after proposals are fully drafted as laws.
Line Ministries
3
As all ministers are equal, the autonomy of line ministries is substantial. The chancellor cannot determine the outlines of government policy and does not have to be involved in the drafting of legislation. Normally, however, proposals are coordinated by the prime minister’s office. Formally, the Federal Ministry of Finance can offer its opinion as to whether a proposal fits into the government’s overall budget policy, even if such consultation is not required. The Ministry of Finance thus has a kind of cross-cutting power.

How effectively do ministerial or cabinet committees coordinate cabinet proposals?

10
 9

The large majority of cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated first by committees.
 8
 7
 6


Most cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated by committees, in particular proposals of political or strategic importance.
 5
 4
 3


There is little review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees.
 2
 1

There is no review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees. Or: There is no ministerial or cabinet committee.
Cabinet Committees
6
There are no regular (or permanent) cabinet committees. In rare cases, ad hoc committees are established to deal with a specific matter. As coalitions are the rule in Austria, such committees usually consist of members of both coalition parties in order to ensure an outcome acceptable to the full cabinet. In 2016, some ad hoc committees within the cabinet were established to prepare a reform agenda under the “New Deal” the chancellor has promised.

How effectively do ministry officials/civil servants coordinate policy proposals?

10
 9

Most policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 8
 7
 6


Many policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 5
 4
 3


There is some coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
 2
 1

There is no or hardly any coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
Ministerial Bureaucracy
5
Austria’s federal bureaucracy is characterized by structural fragmentation. Each federal ministry has its own bureaucracy, accountable to the minister alone and not to the government as such. Each minister and his or her ministry is regarded as having a party affiliation according to the coalition agreement. Policy coordination is possible only when the ministers of specific ministries agree to establish such a specific coordination. As fitting in the government’s ministerial structure of the government, individual ministers fear loss of control over their respective bureaucracies, and thus lasting and open contacts are possible only between the (politically appointed) personal staff of ministers belonging to the same political party.

Because the Austrian bureaucracy is organized along the lines of a (British-style) civil service system, the different ministerial bureaucracies are stable in their political makeup and therefore immune to short-term political influences. Specific ministries are generally dominated by one party over the long term (e.g., the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (social democratic) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment (conservative)).

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination?

10
 9

Informal coordination mechanisms generally support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


In most cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

Informal coordination mechanisms tend to undermine rather than complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
Informal Coordination
6
Existing coordination mechanisms – the weekly informal meetings within each Cabinet factions and the cabinet as a whole, as well as the regular informal meetings between the chancellor and vice-chancellor – are efficient. They do not in any way guarantee a smooth decision-making process based on consensus, but do allow the cabinet to make a realistic assessment of what collective decisions are either possible or impossible. Informal coordination mechanisms are also used to seek compromise when a proposal from one party’s minister is unacceptable to the other coalition party. Each party nominates one cabinet member to a small group tasked with finding this compromise. There is no regular policy coordination, whether formal or informal, on the level of civil servants.


Initially, informal coordination within the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition seemed to function smoothly as evinced by the introduction of two separate commissions for tax and educational reform. These commissions have enjoyed relative seclusion from the press, which has allowed the coalition partners to reach joint compromises more readily. Recent developments with regard to the refugee crisis and the marketing of the tax reform have, however, cast doubt on the coalition’s capacity for informal coordination.

Evidence-based Instruments

#11

To what extent does the government assess the potential impacts of existing and prepared legal acts (regulatory impact assessments, RIA)?

10
 9

RIA are applied to all new regulations and to existing regulations which are characterized by complex impact paths. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 8
 7
 6


RIA are applied systematically to most new regulations. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 5
 4
 3


RIA are applied in some cases. There is no common RIA methodology guaranteeing common minimum standards.
 2
 1

RIA are not applied or do not exist.
RIA Application
8
Under the federal budget law, the government and its ministries are obliged to assess the impact of legislative proposals with respect to the public budget and on the basis of financial, economic, environmental, consumer-protection and employment issues. In addition, in order to avoid overregulation, the government’s legislative proposals must be assessed regarding their regulatory impact. Other detailed regulatory impact assessment (RIA) requirements exist in further decrees.

The results of RIA studies are published in the preface to each legislative proposal. In Austria, RIA is a very recently established, but nonetheless a rapidly evolving tool for legislators and parliamentarians. With the 2013 reform, RIA can now be considered an important component of the country’s legislative process.

Does the RIA process ensure participation, transparency and quality evaluation?

10
 9

RIA analyses consistently involve stakeholders by means of consultation or collaboration, results are transparently communicated to the public and assessments are effectively evaluated by an independent body on a regular basis.
 8
 7
 6


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to one of the three objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to two of the three objectives.
 2
 1

RIA analyses do not exist or the RIA process fails to achieve any of the three objectives of process quality.
Quality of RIA Process
5
RIAs must be attached to every legislative proposal. The publication of draft laws for public assessment (while previous publication is legally required in many cases, in practice virtually all draft laws are published before they are voted upon) allows stakeholders within the public to comment, a frequent occurrence. Trade unions and economic chambers in particular, but other institutions as well are regularly invited to provide comment on draft laws.

However, RIAs are not written by sectoral experts, but rather by the ministry or department preparing the draft law. As a result, expertise may in some cases be limited to the sectoral expertise of the body preparing the draft law.
Currently, there is no independent body that evaluates RIA quality.

Does the government conduct effective sustainability checks within the framework of RIA?

10
 9

Sustainability checks are an integral part of every RIA; they draw on an exhaustive set of indicators (including social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability) and track impacts from the short- to long-term.
 8
 7
 6


Sustainability checks lack one of the three criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Sustainability checks lack two of the three criteria.
 2
 1

Sustainability checks do not exist or lack all three criteria.
Sustainability Check
8
The potential environmental effects of legislative proposals have to be evaluated as a part of regulatory impact assessments, as do effects on employment. Various degrees require that financial and other issues be assessed. Analysis may focus on the short, medium or long term according to specific RIA legal requirements, but is commonly focused on a period of five years.

The country does feature an overarching sustainability strategy, but this is still relatively underdeveloped. The government tends to give much lip service to the ideas behind sustainability but violate its rhetoric in practice by giving in to special interests. This reflects the dominant tendency in public debate to promote sustainability as long as it does not contradict special interests.

Societal Consultation

#5

To what extent does the government consult with societal actors to support its policy?

10
 9

The government successfully motivates societal actors to support its policy.
 8
 7
 6


The government facilitates the acceptance of its policy among societal actors.
 5
 4
 3


The government consults with societal actors.
 2
 1

The government rarely consults with any societal actors.
Negotiating Public Support
8
The Austrian political system is quite inclusive, but is receptive primarily to particular interests. The corporatist network established after 1945, consisting of government, business and labor representatives, still functions. This allows the government to obtain information about the formation of societal interests, and to use this information to adapt its decision-making process. However, this explicit social partnership permits the appeasement of certain interests while excluding other groups that are not as efficiently organized as the major economic interest groups.

The system of officially recognized religious denominations provides another means of societal consultation. All major Christian churches as well as the Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist communities are included in decision-making processes for issues relevant to their faiths and activities.

The role played by these specific economic and noneconomic interest groups has been legally formalized: The government must consult with these groups on all draft bills before sending the proposal to parliament.

A new legal basis for the Islamic community has the potential to improve consultation mechanisms with a fast-growing religious community. The sensitivity for the internal processes within the Islamic Community – especially concerning the responsibility for recruiting preachers and school teachers – has become greater due to the growth of that community.

Policy Communication

#35

To what extent does the government achieve coherent communication?

10
 9

The government effectively coordinates the communication of ministries; ministries closely align their communication with government strategy. Messages are factually coherent with the government’s plans.
 8
 7
 6


The government coordinates the communication of ministries. Contradictory statements are rare, but do occur. Messages are factually coherent with the government’s plans.
 5
 4
 3


The ministries are responsible for informing the public within their own particular areas of competence; their statements occasionally contradict each other. Messages are sometimes not factually coherent with the government’s plans.
 2
 1

Strategic communication planning does not exist; individual ministry statements regularly contradict each other. Messages are often not factually coherent with the government’s plans.
Coherent Communication
4
The cabinet uses occasional, informal policy-coordination meetings to define the general direction of government policies. Following such meetings, the government holds press conferences to provide the public with information about what has been decided. These are typically led by the chancellor and the vice-chancellor, representing the two government coalition parties. In 2016, the newly appointed chancellor tried to change the routine press conferences after cabinet meetings by organizing media briefings for himself only. The vice-chancellor responded by holding individual press briefings, indicating an increasing rift between the coalition partners. This was certainly a blow to coherent information by the two coalition parties governing Austria.

Government communication is overwhelmingly dominated by the individual ministries. This communication is usually also seen as an instrument for the promotion of one of the coalition parties’ agendas (and of the specific minister belonging to this party), rather than the agenda of the government as such.

An interesting example of communication deficits could be observed in 2014: The cabinet (in particular the ministers for European and international affairs and integration) drafted a bill regarding the legal status of Austria’s Islamic community. What could have been seen as an attempt to improve the legal standing of a rather fast-growing minority was instead understood by the Islamic community as an attempt to isolate and treat their community according to different standards. As a result, the draft was criticized by the Islamic community immediately once it became known.

Implementation

#14

To what extent can the government achieve its own policy objectives?

10
 9

The government can largely implement its own policy objectives.
 8
 7
 6


The government is partly successful in implementing its policy objectives or can implement some of its policy objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The government partly fails to implement its objectives or fails to implement several policy objectives.
 2
 1

The government largely fails to implement its policy objectives.
Government Efficiency
7
The evaluation of policy success in Austria strongly reflects the reality of coalition governments. Following the formation of a government, coalition parties agree on policy priorities. Implementation success is used as a vehicle to promote party agendas, rather than the government overall, while each coalition party typically blames the other in cases of failure. This can be regarded as a kind of oppositional behavior within the government: One party acts almost like an opposition regarding the agenda of the other party.

This said, if the coalition partners agree on a policy, it is most likely to be adopted, given the high degree of party discipline in parliament and the limited influence of the second chamber.

Given that the majority held by the two still-governing coalition parties has decreased in 2013 and a (likely) further decline would render this coalition an impossibility after the 2018 election, the current term could be a final opportunity of this government to implement policies on the basis of a broad political and social consensus. At the moment, the government is not making use of this opportunity. It has, for example, dropped the ball on a long-overdue comprehensive reform of the educational system. Similarly, the coalition has promised but not yet implemented a systematic reform of the military draft system. These are just two cases of the government failing to take advantage of the potential held by a stable governing majority.

The failure of the two governing parties to secure their respective candidates a spot in the second (final) round of the presidential elections in 2016 has further increased the nervousness of the coalition partners and opened an ongoing debate about an end of this coalition government.

To what extent does the organization of government provide incentives to ensure that ministers implement the government’s program?

10
 9

The organization of government successfully provides strong incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 8
 7
 6


The organization of government provides some incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 5
 4
 3


The organization of government provides weak incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 2
 1

The organization of government does not provide any incentives for ministers to implement the government’s program.
Ministerial Compliance
6
Ministers are primarily concerned with the agendas of their parties, rather than with that of the government as such. Ministers are selected by the head of each party – typically the chancellor and vice-chancellor. Their first loyalty is thus to party rather than to government. For this reason, ministers have incentives to implement the government’s program only as long as this is identified with the program of his or her party. Nonetheless, there are a number of informal mechanisms that help commit individual ministers to the government program. For example, the parties in the current government have worked out a lengthy coalition agreement. The two partners have therefore reached compromises on the most important policy issues, and agreed on procedures for dealing with conflicts should they arise during the legislative period. For example, the governing parties have agreed not to vote against one another in important parliamentary votes, and have agreed not to support referendums against government policy. The coalition government, re-established after the 2013 general elections, has given priority to presenting a more unified image at the cost of promoting open debates. As a result, several decisions have been blocked by conflicting interests and positions within the cabinet.

How effectively does the government office/prime minister’s office monitor line ministry activities with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The GO / PMO effectively monitors the implementation activities of all line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of most line ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of some line ministries.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not monitor the implementation activities of line ministries.
Monitoring Ministries
6
The main instrument for monitoring ministry activity is the Austrian Court of Audit (Rechnungshof). Constitutionally, this is a parliamentary institution, and its president is elected by parliament for a term of 12 years. The Court of Audit has the reputation of being wholly nonpartisan.

Within the government itself, there is no specific institution for monitoring ministries, though the coalition’s party leaders have significant influence over the individual ministers affiliated with their party. The Federal Chancellery is tasked with coordinating line ministries’ activities rather than monitoring them per se. However, this coordination does allow it to monitor ministry activities, particularly regarding implementation of the coalition agreement.

How effectively do federal and subnational ministries monitor the activities of bureaucracies and executive agencies with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The ministries effectively monitor the implementation activities of all bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 8
 7
 6


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of most bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 5
 4
 3


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of some bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 2
 1

The ministries do not monitor the implementation activities of bureaucracies/executive agencies.
Monitoring Agencies, Bureaucracies
9
Ministries are responsible for monitoring the bureaucratic structures individually subject to them. All bureaucracies (except those within the judicial branch) are legally bound by instructions issued by their ministers (according to Art. 20 of the constitution), and have to report regularly to the ministries. The Austrian Court of Audit (Rechnungshof) is the only institution aside from the parliament that monitors the government and its bureaucracies on a broader, cross-ministerial basis. The Court of Audit is officially an institution of the parliament and the coalition parties have not always succeeded in presenting a common position – as in 2016, when the coalition was unable to present a common candidate for the president of the Court of Audit. This gave opposition parties the possibility to influence the decision. Opposition parties also have the opportunity to establish investigating committees in parliament – even against the will of the ruling majority. This development represents a broadening of the scope of political oversight and potentially involves the need and opportunity to monitor bureaucracies more thoroughly.

To what extent does the central government ensure that tasks delegated to subnational self-governments are adequately funded?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to fulfill all their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 8
 7
 6


The central government enables subnational governments to fulfill most of their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 5
 4
 3


The central government sometimes and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational governments.
 2
 1

The central government often and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational self-governments.
Task Funding
8
Under Austria’s federal system, individual federal states are constitutionally weak as compared with individual states in other federal systems. Yet politically, the federal states enjoy significant power due to the principle of federal or indirect administration and the federal structure of all major parties. Successful party leaders on the state level often determine the fate of their party’s national leadership.

In part because of this ambivalent power structure, responsibilities shift and are shared between levels. In some cases, this functions well: In the case of the most recent health reform, for example, state administrations and the federal government, working closely with the umbrella organization of public insurance companies, together developed a formula that is expected to limit increases in care costs. In other fields, such as the school system, the conflicting structures and interests of the state and federal governments have led to inefficiencies and finger-pointing.

The Austrian constitution mandates that tasks delegated to regional or municipal governments must be adequately funded, although this does not always entail 100% national funding. This principle is in most cases effectively implemented, with some exceptions on the municipal level.

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments may use their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 8
 7
 6


Central government policies inadvertently limit the subnational self-governments’ scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 5
 4
 3


The central government formally respects the constitutional autonomy of subnational self-governments, but de facto narrows their scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 2
 1

The central government deliberately precludes subnational self-governments from making use of their constitutionally provided implementation autonomy.
Constitutional Discretion
8
The competences of the federal states and municipalities are limited by the constitution. However, national administrative tasks are often carried out by subnational agencies, which gives the federal states considerable (de facto) political power.

Hence the main challenge lies in the contradiction between the fact of constitutionally weak states and a constitutionally strong national government, and a political environment that renders the states quite influential and the national government quite weak. Although the national government has a de facto monopoly on the power to raise taxes and other revenues, state governments have considerable leverage in financial negotiations over how these funds are to be distributed.

Thus, in general terms, the Austrian political system ensures that subnational self-governments are able to utilize their constitutional scope of discretion quite effectively. Examples include health and education policies and the relative authority held by states (Länder) in these areas, which successfully precludes the central government from taking on a stronger role.

One aspect is the increasing difference in the way coalitions are built between the federal and state level: More and more, state governments are formed by an alliance between one of the parties of the federal government and another party which is in opposition at the federal level. This underlines the growing complexity of the party system, reflected in the ongoing decline of the two traditionally dominant parties.

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services?

10
 9

Central government effectively ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 8
 7
 6


Central government largely ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 5
 4
 3


Central government ensures that subnational self-governments realize national minimum standards of public services.
 2
 1

Central government does not ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
National Standards
6
The national and state governments share responsibility for many issues, including schools and health care. Each side tends to blame the other for specific implementation shortcomings. In most cases, the parties governing on the national level also control the state governments. Party alliances do not prevent the emergence of conflicts deriving from this structural division of power, but the conflicts are somewhat muted by party links. In parallel with overall growing voter volatility, political majorities in the nine states have grown subject to greater volatility, which has prompted officials at the federal and state levels to demonstrate greater political openness toward each other.

The national government has relatively few instruments by which to make state governments comply with its formal policies. Oversight of municipalities, by both the states and the federal government, is more effective. In 2016, there has been a to reach an understanding between the national government and the nine states. The reason is the inability of the national government to form a consistent position for itself.

Conflicts between state and federal governments have to be brought to the Constitutional Court.

Adaptability

#22

To what extent does the government respond to international and supranational developments by adapting domestic government structures?

10
 9

The government has appropriately and effectively adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 8
 7
 6


In many cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational.
 2
 1

The government has not adapted domestic government structures no matter how useful adaptation might be.
Domestic Adaptability
6
The Austrian government has adapted domestic structures to international developments, but with reservations. While the EU political agenda is generally accepted, the government has proved reluctant to implement specific policies, for example by defending the principle of bank secrecy. Contributing to this hesitancy is the fact that the government is often internally divided, for reasons both constitutional and political: First, the cabinet consists of autonomous ministers who cannot be forced to accept a general agenda. The position of the chancellor as first among equals means there is no clearly defined leadership by a head of government. Second, governments since 1983 have been coalitions. Coalition parties tend to work on a specific party agenda, and have limited interest in the agenda of the government as such.

In many cases, one governing party tends to favor implementation of international and especially supranational (EU) policies more than the other. Alternately, some parties seek to mobilize populist sentiments against the international or supranational level, identifying their own party as the defender of Austrian interests against foreign encroachment. It is especially the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – allied on the EU-level with parties like the French Front National – which plays the patriotic card against what the party identifies as “Brussels”.

Austria’s hesitancy in participating in an all-European policy regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict reflects a lack of adaptability. Austrian political actors tend to use the country’s neutrality status as a pretext for staying aloof. And Austria’s permanent neutrality, enshrined in the constitution, creates problems for Austria’s willingness to cooperate in a more strict common European defense policy.

To what extent is the government able to collaborate effectively in international efforts to foster global public goods?

10
 9

The government can take a leading role in shaping and implementing collective efforts to provide global public goods. It is able to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
 8
 7
 6


The government is largely able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Existing processes enabling the government to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress are, for the most part, effective.
 5
 4
 3


The government is partially able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Processes designed to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress show deficiencies.
 2
 1

The government does not have sufficient institutional capacities to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. It does not have effective processes to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
International Coordination
6
Within the European Union, the government is obliged to collaborate with EU institutions. This collaboration is rarely controversial. In other matters (e.g., within the framework of the WTO, the Bretton Woods institutions, and the United Nations), the Austrian government tends to play a rather low-key role, usually trying to follow a general EU policy if such a policy exists. In some fields (e.g., environmental protection), the government tends to promise more on the international level than it is willing or able to implement at home. During the debate about CETA, some members of the Austrian government (from the Social Democratic Party) attempted to improve some details even after the European Commission and the Canadian government had reached an agreement. In the end, the Austrian government, represented by the social democratic chancellor, signed CETA.

Organizational Reform

#31

To what extent do actors within the government monitor whether institutional arrangements of governing are appropriate?

10
 9

The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly and effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly.
 5
 4
 3


The institutional arrangements of governing are selectively and sporadically monitored.
 2
 1

There is no monitoring.
Self-monitoring
5
There is no regular monitoring within the executive branch of the government. Due to the fragmented structure of the government and comparatively weak position of the chancellor, the ability to engage in oversight from within the central government is very weak. However, a monitoring effort is currently ongoing with respect to reform of the Austrian administration (Verwaltungsreform), based on proposals made by the Austrian audit court.

Core government actors are first and foremost legitimized by the political parties. Though officially appointed by the president, the cabinet consists of individuals chosen by the political parties on the basis of post-electoral coalition agreements. Civil-service personnel are in many cases also indirectly linked to one of the political parties. In recent years, short-term appointments within the civil service has bolstered this latter trend, undermining the principle of a professionalized civil service. Individual cabinet members (federal ministers, including the chancellor and vice-chancellor) have increased the size of their personal staffs. This has created a mixed system, partially echoing the model of the British civil service, in which civil servants work under ministers irrespective of their own political links, and partially following the U.S. model of a politicized civil service with party-political links between cabinet members and their staff.

This blend of two contradictory principles undermines the reform capacity of the Austrian system. The government and its individual cabinet members can neither depend on the full loyalty of a partisan civil service, nor be sure of a complete civil-service impartiality. In 2016, the introduction of specific working groups within the cabinet, under the auspices of the chancellor’s “New Deal,” may represent an increasing awareness of this structural deficit and its consequences.

In general, the structural conditions for monitoring institutional arrangements are suboptimal. Nonetheless, a substantial debate may have been opened.

To what extent does the government improve its strategic capacity by changing the institutional arrangements of governing?

10
 9

The government improves its strategic capacity considerably by changing its institutional arrangements.
 8
 7
 6


The government improves its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 5
 4
 3


The government does not improve its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 2
 1

The government loses strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
Institutional Reform
5
The government usually promises more innovation at the beginning of a legislative period than it can deliver in fact. Desired improvements are often prevented by constitutional limitations (such as the collective character of the Austrian cabinet) and by internal rivalries within the coalition governments. The government’s overall strategic capacity is for this reason suboptimal.

A very good example can be seen in the field of education, where no headway has been made in two key areas: dismantling the socially exclusive effects of the school system and improving Austrian universities’ international standards. The governing parties agree in principle on what needs to be done, but veto powers successfully blocked meaningful reforms during the legislative period.
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