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Nationalrat (National Council)

Compare data for parliamentary chambers in the Oversight module


Parliament name (generic / translated) Parlament / Parliament
Structure of parliament Bicameral
Chamber name Nationalrat
Related chamber (for bicameral parliaments) Bundesrat / Federal Council
Type of political regime parliamentary
Notes The President represents the Republic internationally, receives and accredits envoys, sanctions the appointment of foreign consuls, appoints the consular representatives of the Republic abroad and concludes treaties (Article 65.1 of the Constitution). The Austrian Parliament consists of two Chambers, the National Council (Nationalrat) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat).
Head of the executive Federal Chancellor
Notes The Federal Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor and the other federal ministers are entrusted with the highest administrative business of the Federation insofar as this is not assigned to the President (Article 69.1 of the Constitution). They constitute as a body the Federal Government under the chairmanship of the Federal Chancellor. The President is, however, also responsible to the Federal Parliament for the exercise of his functions.
Method for appointing the executive The President is elected directly by the people. As regards the Federal Chancellor, according to the political practice, the leader of the strongest party in Parliament is charged by the President with the responsibility of forming a new Government.
Term of office of the executive and coincidence with the term of the legislature The President holds office for six years (Article 60.5 of the Constitution). Re-election for the immediately following term of office is admissible once only. The term of the national Council is four years, calculated from the day of its first meeting, but in any case until the day on which the new national Council meets (Article 27.1 of the Constitution).
Incompatibility of the functions of member of the executive and member of Parliament No In the political practice, however, parliamentarians vacate their seats after being appointed members of Government.
Dissolution of Parliament Yes
  • Circumstances
The President can dissolve the national Council, but he may avail himself of this prerogative only once for the same reason (Article29.1 of the Constitution). Before expiry of a legislative period the National Council can vote its own dissolution by simple law. The dissolution can occur whenever a political need is seen for this measure. The Federal Council, by contrast, cannot be dissolved.
  • Modalities
In the first case, the new election is so arranged by Government that the newly elected National Council can at the latest meet on the hundredth day after the dissolution. In the latter case, as well as after expiry of the period for which the National Council has been elected, the legislative period lasts until the day on which the newly elected National Council meets. Over the past ten years, the National Council has been dissolved three times after new elections.
Accountability of Government to Parliament Yes Members of the Government are responsible to the National Council (Article 76.1 of the Constitution), and to a lesser extent to the Federal Council. Both Houses have the right of interpellation, but the Federal Council is not entitled to adopt motions of confidence and of censure. The President is also responsible to the Federal Parliament for the exercise of his functions.
Modalities of oversight
  • Oral and written questions of parliamentarians
During parliamentary sessions, every parliamentarian is entitled to address brief oral questions to Members of the Federal Government (Article 52.3 of the Constitution). They may also address written questions to the President of the House and the chairpersons of committees.
  • Government reports to Parliament
Government accountability to Parliament is brought into play by Government annual reports and votes thereon.
  • Vote of confidence on Government programs and/or legislative proposals
Government accountability to Parliament can be brought into play in the legislative procedure through questions of confidence in the National Council.
Motions of censure and votes of no confidence (sub-report)
  • Circumstances
A motion of censure can be tabled in case of disapproval of actions taken by Government or in case of a breach of the Constitution or a law. The Members of the Government are responsible to the National Council (Article76.1 of the Constitution).
  • Modalites
The National Council passes an explicit vote of no confidence in Government or individual members thereof.
  • Consequences
Depending on the intention of the motion of censure, either an individual Member of Government, or the whole cabinet are dismissed. From 1991 to 2001, 45 motions of censure were tabled, all by opposition parties, but none was accepted.
Dismissal and/or impeachment of Government and other public officials (sub-report)
  • Circumstances and persons concerned
The President can be deposed before expiry of his term of office by referendum (Article60.6 of the Constitution). Furthermore, the Constitutional Court rules on matters pertaining to the constitutional responsibility of the highest federal authorities as regards legal contraventions committed in the performance of their official duties (Article142 of the Constitution). Proceedings can also be brought to the Constitutional Court against the President, for contravention of the Constitution, by a vote of the Federal Parliament.
  • Modalites and procedure
A referendum is held if the Federal Parliament so demands. The latter is convoked by the Chancellor for this purpose if the National Council has passed a motion that requires the presence of at least half the members and a majority of two thirds of the votes cast.
  • Consequences
By a National Council vote, the President is prevented from the further exercise of his office. Rejection by the referendum of the proposal entails the dissolution of the National Council and the holding of new elections. The condemnation by the Constitutional Court entails a forfeiture of office and, in particularly aggravating circumstances, also a temporary forfeiture of political rights of the other persons mentioned.
  • Have these procedures been applied?
Oversight over the actions of the Government administration Yes The National and Federal Councils are entitled to examine the administration of affairs by Government, to interrogate its members about all subjects pertaining to execution, to demand all relevant information and to articulate in resolutions their wishes about exercise of the executive power (Article52.1 of the Constitution). The Federal Council, however, does not have the power to set up a Committee of Inquiry.
Means and modalities of oversight
  • Hearings in Committees
Parliament exercises oversight over the actions of the Government administration by holding hearings in committees.
  • Committees of inquiry and missions to Government departments
The National Council can by resolution set up Committees of Inquiry (Article53.1 of the Constitution). The Federal Council does not, however, have the power to do so.
  • Oral and written questions of parliamentarians
Every parliamentarian is entitled during plenary sessions to address brief oral questions to Members of the Government (Article 52.3 of the Constitution). The deadline for the reply to an oral question tabled in the plenary sitting is the same day. A debate takes place whenever it is requested. Parliamentarians also have the right to address written questions to the President of the House and the chairpersons of Committees. The person so questioned replies in writing and if he/she is not in a position to answer the question, his/her reply must indicate the reason.

Questions which a member wishes to address to the Government or one of its members within a session must be submitted to the President of the House in writing with at least four additional copies. They must bear the personal signatures of at least five members including the questioner and must be communicated to the person questioned by the parliamentary administration. Questioners may withdraw their questions in writing at any time before receipt of the answer by the President of the House. The President communicates the withdrawal of the question to the National Council at its next following sitting and informs the Government Member accordingly.
  • Role of Parliament in the appointment of senior Government officials
Parliament does not have a role in appointing senior government officials. It is, however, entitled to elect the President of the Court of Audit and submit to the Federal President proposals for the appointment of six members of the Constitutional Court.
  • Activity reports of the Government administration and of public services or establishments
It is always the minister who has the duty to report on the administration of public services under his portfolio.
  • Representation of Parliament in governing bodies of the Government administration
Parliamentarians are allowed to exercise functions in other institutions or enterprises (such as in Unions or Chambers of Commerce).
Existence of an ombudsman Yes
  • Method for appointing the executive
The Ombudsman Board consists of three members one of whom acts in turn as chairman (Article148g.1 of the Constitution). The term of office is six years and re-election of the members more than once is inadmissible. Board members are elected by the National Council on the basis of a joint recommendation made by the Standing Committee in the presence of at least half its members. Each of the three parties with the largest number of votes in the National Council is entitled to nominate one member for this recommendation.
  • Relationship to Parliament
The Ombudsman Board is ex officio entitled to investigate suspicions of maladministration by the Federation including in its capacity as custodian of private rights (Article148a.2 of the Constitution). The Ombudsman Board is independent in the exercise of its authority and submits an annual report to Parliament. The members of the Ombudsman Board are entitled to participate in the debates by Parliament and by their Committees on the Ombudsman Board's reports and on each occasion to be given at their request a hearing (Article148d of the Constitution).
Consultation of Parliament in the preparation of the national budget No The draft budget is prepared annually by the Minister of Finance, before it is adopted by the Council of Ministers. It is subsequently handed over to Parliament, where it is discussed and finally adopted.
Modalities of oversight
  • Examination of the budget / finance act by Parliament
The National Council votes the Finance Act (Article51 of the Constitution), for which the Government's draft forms the basis of the debates. The Finance Act includes as annexes the estimate of the revenue and expenditure of the Federation (the federal budget estimates), the planned establishments for the ensuing financial year as well as other elements material for the management of the economy during the year in question. The more detailed provisions as to the preparation of the Finance Act and as to the management of the economy are settled in conformity with uniform principles by constitutional law. The Federal Council has no powers concerning financial control of the budget, nor concerning the adoption of the Finance Act or the annual federal statement of account, nor the auditing of the Government's books.
  • Reports on the budget / finance act by Committees
The National Council but not the Federal Council exercises budgetary oversight through the reports of the Minister of Finance or other ministers, or the Court of Audit.
Fields overseen
  • Defence budget
The National Council but not the Federal Council exercises oversight over all public funds.
  • Budget of special departments
The National Council but not the Federal Council exercises oversight over all public funds.
  • Role of Parliament in national development plans
If such plans exist in certain fields, they are mostly drawn up by the Ministries in charge of their implementation. The minister usually has the duty to report on their implementation.
Parliament's deadline for the examination and adoption of the budget / finance act Government must at the latest ten weeks before expiry of the fiscal year submit to the National Council the draft Finance Act for the ensuing fiscal year. In practice, the budget is adopted after six to eight weeks of examination and deliberations. The final deadline for its adoption is the end of the budget year (31 December).
Consequences of failure by Parliament to adopt the budget / finance act If the Government has not in due time submitted to the National Council the draft Finance Act, a draft Finance Act can likewise be introduced on the motion of its members. Should the Government subsequently submit such a draft, the National Council can vote to adopt this draft as the basis for its debates. If the National Council does not before expiry of the fiscal year adopt a budget for the ensuing fiscal year and likewise makes no temporary provision by way of a federal law, revenue is raised in accordance with the current legal provisions. (i) Insofar as the Government has submitted the draft Finance Act, expenditures are made pursuant to this draft until such time as a legal adjustment enters into force, but at the most during the first four months of the ensuing fiscal year, and (ii) insofar as the Government has not submitted any draft Finance Act or the first four months of the ensuing fiscal year have expired, expenditures are made pursuant to the expenditure amounts budgeted in the last Finance Act.
Budgetary autonomy of Parliament Yes The parliamentary budget is part of the general budget and implemented in the same way.
Evaluation of Government spending
Parliament approves Government expenditures annually Yes The Public Audit Office is competent to examine the administration of public funds by the Federation and other legal entities. It draws up the final federal budget accounts and submits them to the National Council.
Parliamentary oversight of public companies Yes Public companies are under the control of the Court of Audit. By resolution of the National Council, the Court of Audit can be commissioned to audit a public company and to report on the result of this specific act of audit.
Modalities of oversight
  • Body for auditing the Government's books and method for appointing
The Court of Audit is competent to examine the administration of public funds by the Federation, the Länder, the municipal associations, the municipalities and other legal entities determined by law (Article121.1 of the Constitution). It draws up the final federal budget accounts and submits them to the National Council.
  • Reports of the public auditor's office
The Court of Audit has to submit to the National Council an annual report on its activities of the previous year. Moreover, it has to report on specific acts of audit it has been commissioned to carry out. The Federal Council is not entitled to commission the Court of Audit to carry out a special investigation.
  • Specialised committee
The participation of the National Council in the management of the economy is incumbent on the National Council Committee entrusted with the preparation of finance laws (Article51c.1 of the Constitution). The Minister of Finance reports on a quarterly basis to the National Council Committee on the measures taken pursuant to changes in the development of expenditures or revenues (Article 51a of the Constitution). Further reports may be delivered to this Committee in conformity with special legal provisions
Foreign Relations Committee (sub-report)
  • Functions of the Committee
Traditionally, the Foreign Affairs Committee is one of the largest committees. Its primary task is not to consider draft legislation, but to exercise parliamentary control over the Government's foreign policy.
  • Powers of the Committee
Quite often, debates on foreign policy take place in the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose meetings are not open to the public, rather than in the plenary session of Parliament. The Committee can declare items of business confidential or secret, so as to be able to discuss them without regard for reactions abroad. The bills referred directly to the Committee are mostly draft laws ratifying important treaties with other States.
  • Composition of the Committee
The Committee has a membership of about 25 members.
  • Bilateral visits of Parliament, inter-parliamentary conferences and information missions abroad
Parliament exercises oversight over foreign policy through bilateral visits, participation in inter-parliamentary conferences and information missions abroad.
  • Plenary debates on foreign policy issues
Parliament exercises oversight over foreign policy by organising between 15 and 20 plenary debates on foreign policy issues.
Involvement of Parliament
  • Participation of Parliament in inter-governmental meetings
Parliamentarians may participate in intergovernmental meetings at the request of the Government.
  • Modalities and procedures for ratifying international treaties and agreements (sub-report)
Political treaties, and others insofar as their contents modify or complement existent laws, may only be concluded with sanction of the National Council (Article50.1 of the Constitution). Insofar as such treaties settle matters within the autonomous sphere of competence of the Länder, they require in addition the approval of the Federal Council. There is no specific timeframe for Parliament to ratify a treaty.
  • Other mechanisms for participation in foreign policy by Parliament
In addition to the already mentioned oversight procedures, parliamentarians can also be invited to join governmental delegations to United Nations conferences, for example.
National Defence Committee (sub-report)
  • Functions of the Committee
The Defence Committee is not concerned primarily with legislation and has established a permanent subcommittee to look into a particular matter, similar to a Committee of Inquiry.
  • Powers of the Committee
The Committee has the power to summon and swear in witness and to demand the submission of files. Courts and administrative authorities are obliged to render judicial and administrative assistance.
  • Composition of the Committee
Not available
Parliamentary oversight of public arms manufacturing companies Not applicable
Circumstances and involvement
  • Modalities and procedures in case of war, an armed attack or a state of emergency
Parliament exercises oversight over defence policy when war is declared, in a state of emergency and following an armed attack.
  • Role of Parliament in sending troops abroad
Parliament exercises oversight over defence policy when troops are sent abroad.
  • Other mechanisms for participation in national defence policy by Parliament
There are no other parliamentary oversight mechanisms in addition to the above.
Circumstances The declaration of a state of emergency is not regulated by law. However, if the immediate issue of measures, which require a resolution by the National Council, becomes necessary to prevent obvious and irreparable damage to the community at a time when the National Council is not assembled, cannot meet in time, or is impeded from action by events beyond its control, the President of the Federation can, on the recommendation of Government and on his and their responsibility, take these measures by way of provisional law-amending ordinances (Article18.3 of the Constitution). Government must present its recommendation with the consent of the standing subcommittee to be appointed by the main Committee of the National Council. Presidential provisional law-amending ordinances require the countersignature of the Government.
Can parliament take the initiative to declare a state of emergency Not applicable
Consequences of a state of emergency for Parliament Not applicable
Modalities of oversight
  • Body ruling on the constitutionality of laws
A specialised body / constitutional Court The Constitutional Court rules on pecuniary claims on the federation which cannot be settled by ordinary legal process nor be liquidated by the ruling of an administrative authority (Article137 of the Constitution). Furthermore, it rules on conflicts of competence (i) between courts and administrative authorities, (ii) between the Administrative Court and all other courts, and (iii) between the Länder amongst themselves as well as between a Land and the Federation.
  • Means and procedures
The Constitutional Court rules on application by the Administrative Court, the Supreme Court, a competent appellate court, an independent administrative panel or by the Federal procurement authority, on whether a Federal or Land law is unconstitutional, but ex officio insofar as the Court would have to apply such a law in a pending suit (Article140 of the Constitution). It rules also on application by Government whether Land laws are unconstitutional and likewise on application by a Land Government, by one third of the National Council's members, or by one third of the Federal Council's members, on whether federal laws are unconstitutional.

The Court rules also on whether laws are unconstitutional when an application alleges direct infringement of personal rights through such unconstitutionality insofar as the law has become operative for the applicant without the delivery of a judicial decision or the issue of a ruling.

If the litigant in a suit lodged with the Constitutional Court, entailing application of a law by the Court, receives satisfaction, the proceedings initiated to examine the law's constitutionality nevertheless continue. The Constitutional Court may rescind a law as unconstitutional only to the extent that its rescission was expressly submitted or the Court would have to apply the law in the suit pending with it. If however the Court concludes that the whole law was enacted by a legislative authority unqualified in accordance with the allocation of competence or published in an unconstitutional manner, it rescinds the whole law as unconstitutional.

If a law has been rescinded on account of unconstitutionality or if the Constitutional Court has pronounced a law to be unconstitutional, all courts and administrative authorities are bound by the Court's decision. The law may however continue to apply to the circumstances effected before the rescission, with the exception of the case in point, unless the Court in its rescissory judgment decides otherwise.
Evaluation of laws No The only instruments of evaluation are the reports of the Court of Audit, of the ministers and of the public prosecution. Also, interpellations can lead to an evaluation of Government spending.

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