Austria

   

Executive Capacity

#24
Key Findings
With a Federal Chancellery that coordinates but is not superior to other ministries, Austria’s executive capacity falls into the lower-middle ranks in international comparison (rank 24). Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

The new coalition government streamlined the cabinet’s performance, with the chancellor and his deputy monopolizing public messaging. Intra-governmental disputes were played down, with a strong focus on “message control.” A new level of “secretary generals” was installed above ministry department heads, reducing ministry and civil servants’ autonomy.

Inter- and intra-party veto players continue to have significant influence, undermining strategic capacity. The entry into government of the FPÖ, which lacks traditional corporatist ties, diminished the role of pre-legislative consultation. An absence of long-term strategy prevents any systematic ex post evaluation of policy.

The federal states are constitutionally weak but politically influential. Delegated tasks are typically funded adequately. The FPÖ’s euroskepticism has led to more conflict with mainstream EU policies, and greater support for Visegrád-state positions.

Strategic Capacity

#23

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
7
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 the 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 prevents 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). Inter- and intra-party veto players have significant influence, and undermine strategic capacity.

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.

In 2017 the coalition between SPÖ and ÖVP collapsed due to a change of leadership within the ÖVP. Consequently, the general election scheduled for 2018 had to be moved to October 2017. The outcome of the election resulted in a new coalition agreement, negotiated between the ÖVP and FPÖ. However, the formation of a new coalition will not change the inbuilt weaknesses of a coalition government based on partners with conflicting interests.

The ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government, formed at the end of 2017, continued the strategy of centralizing the bureaucracy within the ministries by establishing “secretary generals” above the traditional structure. A secretary general is only answerable to the minister, placing them above heads of departments. This structure, in some cases established before 2017, has become the overall principle within the whole government. The intention is to give the respective minister (through the secretary general) direct control over the ministry.

Does the government regularly take into account advice from non-governmental experts during decision-making?

10
 9

In almost all cases, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


For major political projects, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 2
 1

The government does not consult with non-governmental experts, or existing consultations lack transparency entirely and/or are exclusively pro forma.
Expert Advice
4
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 for academic quality and independence, but are nevertheless structurally (financially) dependent on government actors. Except with respect to immigration and pension policy, there is no regular academic advisory board, as exists in Germany or the United States.

One consequence of the new ÖVP-FPÖ coalition is that the FPÖ does not possess strong traditional links to the neo-corporatist institutions of “social partnership.” This situation automatically creates an interest within the FPÖ to reduce the importance of social partners (like the chambers of labor, business and agriculture) as well as the ÖGB, the trade union federation. As the social partners have a certain control over the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, the structural interest of the FPÖ is to take the advice of the social partners and the institute (the social partnership’s brain trust) less seriously. This must be seen as the beginning of a decline in the significance of traditional external expertise.

Another indicator is the relative decline in public consultations and expert opinions regarding new laws and regulations under the new coalition government. Reports indicate that expert opinions from different ministries have also been actively suppressed by the government to avoid public dissent.

Interministerial Coordination

#34

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

10
 9

The GO / PMO provides regular, independent evaluations of draft bills for the cabinet / prime minister. These assessments are guided exclusively by the government’s priorities.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO evaluates most draft bills according to the government’s priorities.
 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
6
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 new coalition government (between the ÖVP and FPÖ) will not be able to change the structural conditions of the system. Any strengthening of the position of the chancellor will not be in the interest of the vice-chancellor. The new coalition (like the outgoing) will be based on a balance between two equally strong partners.

Nevertheless, the new government has succeeded in streamlining the cabinet’s performance. Following the concept of “message control,” the chancellor and his deputy – representing the two governing parties – monopolized the role of explaining government policy to the public. Intra-government disputes have been played down and the cabinet’s role as the main instigator of legislation has become even more apparent than in the past.

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 between 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
6
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. The Ministry of Finance thus has a kind of cross-cutting power.

The new government has developed a policy of “message control” which reduces the significance of ministers substantially, and increases the guiding power of the chancellor and his deputy – at least as long as both are in control of their respective parties.

How effectively do ministerial or cabinet committees coordinate cabinet proposals?

10
 9

The vast 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
5
During the last years of the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition cabinets, there had been no regular (or permanent) cabinet committees. In rare cases, ad hoc committees were established to deal with specific matters. As coalitions are typical in Austria, such committees usually consist of members of both coalition parties in order to ensure an outcome acceptable to the full cabinet. The new ÖVP-FPÖ cabinet has not as yet established regular cabinet committees either.

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
6
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).

Nonetheless, by introducing “secretary generals” above the heads of departments in government ministries, the autonomy of civil servants has been reduced by the new ÖVP-FPÖ coalition.

Citations:
The tradition of a civil service system, consisting of professional bureaucrats bound to be loyal to any minister, has always been balanced by the undisputed right of any cabinet minister to decide about the activities of each civil servant in his (her) ministry. But by introducing in all ministries “secretary generals” above the heads of sections, the autonomy of civil servants has been further reduced.

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
Previous coordination mechanisms – like weekly informal meetings within each cabinet faction and the cabinet as a whole, as well as the regular informal meetings between the chancellor and vice-chancellor – were sufficiently effective. They did not guarantee a smooth decision-making process based on consensus, but did allow the cabinet to make a realistic assessment of what collective decisions were possible or impossible. Informal coordination mechanisms were used to negotiate a compromise when a proposal from one party’s minister was unacceptable to the other coalition party.

The most effective form of informal coordination within the new government seems to be regular, but not formalized meetings between the chancellor and vice-chancellor. During 2018, the first year of the new coalition government, this pattern obviously worked given that no conflicts between the two coalition partners or between different ministers became public.

How extensively and effectively are digital technologies used to support interministerial coordination (in policy development and monitoring)?

10
 9

The government uses digital technologies extensively and effectively to support interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


The government uses digital technologies in most cases and somewhat effectively to support interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


The government uses digital technologies to a lesser degree and with limited effects to support interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

The government makes no substantial use of digital technologies to support interministerial coordination.
Digitalization for Interministerial C.
4
After 10 months of the present government being in power, nothing specific is known about the government’s approach to digitalization for interministerial coordination. But as digitalization is very much discussed in public and in government circles, it is likely that a policy on digitalization for interministerial coordination is in the making. It is to be seen whether such an approach to coordination (which could become reality very soon) will run contra to the “message control” policy of the chancellor and his deputy – or whether it can be used by both to improve their control over the government’s public agenda.

Evidence-based Instruments

#15

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. But, the impact of the new coalition government, following the elections of October 2017, cannot be predicted.

Since the new coalition was formed at the end of 2017, the way the government controls legislation in particular and decision-making in general through a RIA-like procedure has not changed.

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
6
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.

After less than one year in power, nothing can be said regarding any significant changes introduced by the new ÖVP-FPÖ coalition. But it must be concluded that the chancellor’s system of “message control” reduces the autonomy of government ministers and ministries to formulate policies without the consent of the chancellor and his deputy.

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 decrees 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 violates 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.

During 2018, nothing seems to have changed between the symbolic policy of “lip service” and the tendency to follow short-term interests focused on electoral data, although this contradicts official declarations.

To what extent do government ministries regularly evaluate the effectiveness and/or efficiency of public policies and use results of evaluations for the revision of existing policies or development of new policies?

10
 9

Ex post evaluations are carried out for all significant policies and are generally used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 8
 7
 6


Ex post evaluations are carried out for most significant policies and are used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 5
 4
 3


Ex post evaluations are rarely carried out for significant policies and are rarely used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 2
 1

Ex post evaluations are generally not carried out and do not play any relevant role for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
Quality of Ex Post Evaluation
3
Ex-post evaluation is a rather unknown field in Austrian politics. The lack of any systematic ex-post evaluation tradition and the tendency of political actors to prioritize the next election over all other perspectives makes it highly unlikely that the present government or parliament will establish a structure of ex-post evaluations. The absence of long-term strategies, beyond traditional vague ideologies (like social justice or defending Austrian identity), prevent any reasonable systematic ex-post evaluation. Though one exception concerns electoral campaigning. Following the priority given to electoral strategies, parties in Austria reflect systematically on the reasons for any specific electoral outcome, which may be viewed as a specific version of ex-post evaluation.

Moreover, the Austrian Audit Court carries out specific ex-post evaluations from time to time.

Societal Consultation

#10

Does the government consult with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner?

10
 9

The government always consults with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner.
 8
 7
 6


The government in most cases consults with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner.
 5
 4
 3


The government does consult with societal actors, but mostly in an unfair and clientelistic manner.
 2
 1

The government rarely consults with any societal actors.
Public Consultation
7
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.

The new coalition between the ÖVP – a party deeply rooted in the corporatist network – and the FPÖ (a party more or less outside this network) may change some elements of the system of consultation. The same applies to consultations involving officially recognized religious denominations.

From its beginning, the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition has demonstrated a new tendency to neglect the tradition of pre-legislative consultations and the de facto outsourcing of social policymaking. Without consulting organized labor, the government changed significant elements of the labor law. This represents a challenge to the traditional system of social partnership – a system in which previous governments accepted and implemented deals negotiated between business associations and organized labor. By improving political effectivity and expedience, the government may run into difficulties with organized labor.

Policy Communication

#18

To what extent does the government achieve coherent communication?

10
 9

Ministries are highly successful in aligning their communication with government strategy.
 8
 7
 6


Ministries most of the time are highly successful in aligning their communication with government strategy.
 5
 4
 3


Ministries occasionally issue public statements that contradict the public communication of other ministries or the government strategy.
 2
 1

Strategic communication planning does not exist; individual ministry statements regularly contradict each other. Messages are often not factually consistent with the government’s strategy.
Coherent Communication
6
Previous cabinets used occasional, informal policy-coordination meetings to define the general direction of government policies. Following such meetings, the government would hold press conferences to provide the public with information about what has been decided.

In the past, government communication was 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. As the new government is based – like the outgoing government – on two more or less equally strong coalition partners, this might not change in the future. However, these partners have – at least verbally – committed to a coherent communication strategy and in this regard have also agreed to use one press officer for both parties.

At the end of 2017, the coalition established a new style of centralizing political communication (“message control”). This has been a significant departure from the style of previous coalitions in which individual cabinet members communicated with the public directly. Now, communication is more or less centralized under the chancellor and deputy chancellor.

Implementation

#13

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 Effectiveness
8
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.

This may not change under the newly formed coalition government. There is a new coalition partner, the FPÖ. However, the structure of a two-party coalition will be the same as before. Each governing party promote its role in government, even if this means distancing itself from their coalition partner.

During its first year, the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition has rather successfully overcome the traditional pattern of “opposition within the coalition.” The strategic formula “message control” has prevented internal coalition conflicts becoming public. However, some recent developments indicate that this may change. For example, some ÖVP-members of the parliamentary committee that is looking into the performance of the FPÖ-led Ministry of the Interior demonstrated their unhappiness with the ministry’s performance regarding a police action directed against the “Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung” (BVT). In the long run, this may lead to the return of the old pattern in which one governing party has little interest in the success of its coalition partner.

Citations:
During the first months of its existence, the OeVP – FPOe coalition has tried to overcome (until now rather successfully) the pattern of “opposition within the government.” The overall mantra of “message control” has prevented that conflicts within the government became public. This may change as some indications especially concerning the FPOe-led ministry of the interior demonstrate. The parliamentary committee estabished to look into a specific event (police activities directed against the “Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung,” BVT) show that the OeVP (por at least some members of the OeVP in parilament) are rather unhappy with the FPOe-minister’s performance. On the long run, this could lead to the return of the traditional pattern: one governing party has not interest in the success of the other governing party.

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

10
 9

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


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


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

The organization of government does not provide any mechanisms 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.

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 non-partisan.

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.

This overall situation has not changed since the formation of the new coalition at the end of 2017.

Citations:
www.rechnungshof.gv.at

How effectively do federal and subnational ministries monitor the activities of bureaucracies/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.

By establishing secretary generals above the heads of departments (“Sektionschefs”), the Kurz-Strache government has strengthened the control of government ministers over their ministerial bureaucracies. But this does not change the fact that monitoring is still first and foremost an intra-ministerial task.

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 states (“Länder”) are constitutionally weak as compared with individual states in other federal systems. Yet politically, the 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. Concerning the need to determine the amount of subsidy states must provide asylum-seekers, the states responded in contradicting ways.

A significant aspect would be to allow the states to independently raise some taxes. However, the states themselves oppose such a reform. The states seem satisfied to be financed by the federal authorities, decided by a negotiated compromise between the federal government (“Bund”) and the states.

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.


In 2018, nothing changed significantly. However, a debate has just been started by the governor of Lower Austria concerning the powers of the nine federal states to collect taxes. If this idea becomes reality, the structure of the Austrian political system would become more decentralized.

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 states (Länder) 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.

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

To what extent is government enforcing regulations in an effective and unbiased way, also against vested interests?

10
 9

Government agencies enforce regulations effectively and without bias.
 8
 7
 6


Government agencies, for the most part, enforce regulations effectively and without bias.
 5
 4
 3


Government agencies enforce regulations, but ineffectively and with bias.
 2
 1

Government agencies enforce regulations ineffectively, inconsistently and with bias.
Regulatory Enforcement
6
The question of “biased” and “unbiased” cannot be impartially answered by political actors. Political parties and their representatives will always tend to see the enforcement of regulations in different ways, reflecting the different perspectives of the competing parties. But, by and large, the Austrian tradition of enforcing regulations is broadly accepted as being without significant bias.

Adaptability

#25

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 developments.
 2
 1

The government has not adapted domestic government structures, no matter how beneficial 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.” As the FPÖ is now a member of the government, the reluctance to adapt to European standards will increase, even as the FPÖ (in contrast to the Front National) does not favor an Austrian exit from the European Union.

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 tighter common European defense policy.

In 2018, the government shifted its overall international outlook away from following general EU policies (as established by the principle of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy) to a more diverse attitude – siding in some cases (e.g., concerning the U.N. migration agreement) with the four Visegrád EU member states rather than with the EU mainstream. This reflects the euroskeptic attitude of the FPÖ. During Austria’s rotating presidency of the European Council, this created a specific ambivalence between the Austrian government’s responsibility for the European Union at large and the government’s tendency to align with the dissident positions of the Visegrád group. This became visible in the government’s hesitant approach to re-establishing the travel freedom in the Schengen area.

Citations:
2018, the government has shifted its overall international outlook from following the general EU-policies (as established by the principle of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy) to a more diverse attitude – siding in some cases (e.g., concerning the UN-migration agreement) more with the four Visegrád states than with the EU mainstream. This reflects the EU-skeptical attitude of the FPOe. During the months of Austria’s rotating presidency of the EU council, this created a specific ambivalence: The Austrian government’s responsibility for the EU at large and the tendency of following the dissidents of the Visegrád group. This became also visible in the government’s hesitant approach to re-establish the travel freedom of the Schengen agreement.

To what extent is the government able to collaborate effectively with 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
5
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.

The ÖVP-FPÖ coalition has created an unusual mixture of different responsibilities in the field of Austria’s European and international policies. The EU agenda is strictly controlled by the ÖVP: The chancellor represents Austria in the European Council, and the (ÖVP-nominated) minister for European affairs is Austria’s voice in the Council of General Affairs. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has lost its EU agenda, is led by a minister, nominated by the FPÖ. This has created already some frictions (e.g., regarding the FPÖ-favored policy to allow members from the Italian province of Bolzano (Südtirol) to gain Austrian citizenship while retaining their Italian citizenship). This idea has not only raised eyebrows in Italy but also within the ÖVP – although this has not led to an open dispute.

Organizational Reform

#27

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.

From the beginning of 2018, the government has tried to strengthen political control over the civil service – especially by establishing the system of “secretary generals” in all ministries. This system has had a centralizing effect by guaranteeing the loyalty of the civil service to the specific minister who appoints the secretary general. This tendency indirectly contradicts the non-partisan status of the Austrian civil service.

Citations:
From the beginning of 2018 on, the government has tried to strengthen the political control over the civil service – especially by establishing the system of “secretary generals” in ministries. This has to have a centralizing effect by guaranteeing the loyalty of the civil service to the specific minister who appoints the secretary-general. This tendency contradicts at least indirectly the non-partisan status of the Austrian civil service.

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 parties may agree in principle on what needs to be done, but veto powers are able to block meaningful reforms during the legislative period.

The ÖVP-FPÖ coalition has renamed the Ministry of Justice the Ministry of Justice and Reforms. This indicates that institutional innovation is high on the government’s agenda. But, as most significant reforms must be passed by parliament by a two-thirds majority, the government depends on the cooperation of at least one opposition party. This has reduced the government’s ability to implement its reform agenda, for example, regarding a new definition of power sharing between the federal and the state level. Thus, it seems that the government sometimes tries to improve its strategic capacity without reforming the institutional arrangements, since the reforms lack the necessary two-thirds majority. In the medium run, this may and will lead to more acts and laws suspended by the Austrian Constitutional Court for their alleged unconstitutionality.
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