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Austria

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Politics and government of
Austria



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Austria is a federal republic made up of nine states, known in German as Länder (singular Land). Since Land is also the German word for a sovereign state, the term Bundesländer ("Federal States"; singular Bundesland) is often used instead to avoid ambiguity. The Constitution of Austria uses both terms. In English, the term (Bundes)land is commonly rendered as "state" or "province".

Contents

Federalism and state responsibilities

Each Austrian state has an elected legislature, the Landtag, a state government, the Landesregierung, and a governor, the Landeshauptmann. Elections are held every five years (six years in Upper Austria). The state constitution, among other things, determines how the seats in the state government are assigned to political parties, with most states having a system of proportional representation based on the number of delegates in the Landtag in place. The Landeshauptmann is always elected by the Landtag, meaning that it may be necessary to form a coalition in order to secure the election of a particular candidate. Vienna, the capital of Austria, plays a double role as city and "Bundesland", meaning that the mayor serves as governor and the city council as Landtag at the same time.

It must be noted, however, that Austrian federalism is generally considered largely notional, as the states are granted comparatively few actual legislative powers. While it is true that the federal constitution grants all legislative powers to the states initially, they are subsequently taken away to such an extent that only relatively few matters (most importantly building and zoning codes, natural protection, hunting, fishing, farming, youth protection and such remain, as well as the right to levy certain taxes).

Almost all matters of practical importance, including, but not limited to, criminal law, civil law, corporate law, most other aspects of economic law, education, academia, welfare, telecommunications, and the health care system, are to be regulated by federal laws. There is also no stand-alone judiciary of the Länder, the federal constitution defining jurisdiction as an exclusively federal matter.

This is largely due to historic reasons, as central power during the time of the empire was largely concentrated in Vienna. This historical development is in stark contrast to developments in Germany, which had been composed of various small states without power centralised in one place.

However, the state governor (Landeshauptmann) is also in charge of the administration of much of federal administrative law within the respective state, which makes this post an important political position. Furthermore, state competences include zoning laws, planning issues and public procurement on the regional level, which adds considerable weight to state politics. As a practical matter, there have been cases where states have been able to block projects endorsed by the federal government, as in the case of a railway tunnel that was to be built below the Semmering.

Still, Austrian Länder are formally and practically endowed with a much smaller degree of statehood than American or even German states are. Even so, Austrians tend to passionately identify with their respective Land and often defend what little independent governance their states have. It is not unheard of for Austrians to consider themselves, for instance, Tyrolean first, Austrian second.

Geography

The nine states of Austria, listed alphabetically by their official German name, are:

State (Bundesland) Capital States of Austria
English Native English Native
1 Burgenland Eisenstadt
2 Carinthia Kärnten Klagenfurt
3 Lower Austria Niederösterreich St. Pölten
4 Upper Austria Oberösterreich Linz
5 Salzburg Salzburg
6 Styria Steiermark Graz
7 Tyrol Tirol Innsbruck
8 Vorarlberg Bregenz
9 Vienna Wien

The biggest part of the land in the states of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Vienna, and Burgenland are situated in the Danube valley and thus consist almost completely of accessible and easily arable terrain. The other five states, in contrast, are located in the Alps and thus comparatively unsuitable for agriculture. Their terrain is also relatively unfavourable to heavy industry and long-distance trade. Accordingly, the population of what now is the Republic of Austria has been concentrated in the former four states since prehistoric times. Austria's most densely populated state is the city state of Vienna, the heart of what is Austria's only metropolitan area. Lower Austria only ranks fourth with regard to population density even though containing Vienna's suburbs; this is due to large areas of land predominantly agricultural. The alpine state of Tyrol, the less alpine but geographically secluded state of Carinthia, and the definitely not alpine but near-exclusively agricultural state of Burgenland are Austria's least densely populated states. The alpine state of Vorarlberg is an anomaly.

State populations and capitals

The following ranked list of Austrian states cites official Statistik Austria population estimates from January 1, 2008 [1]:

State Capital Population Area (km²) Pop. density Cities Towns
1 Vienna 1,677,867 415 4,044.3 1 0
2 Lower Austria Sankt Pölten 1,597,240 19,178 83.3 75 498
3 Upper Austria Linz 1,408,165 11,982 117.5 32 412
4 Styria Graz 1,205,609 16,392 73.6 34 508
5 Tyrol Innsbruck 703,512 12,648 55.6 11 268
6 Carinthia Klagenfurt 561,094 9,536 58.8 17 115
7 Salzburg Salzburg 530,576 7,154 74.2 10 109
8 Vorarlberg Bregenz 366,377 2,601 140.8 5 91
9 Burgenland Eisenstadt 281,190 3,965 70.9 13 158

The population figures cited are generally assumed to be accurate to within five percent. Areas are given in square kilometres, population density is expressed in inhabitants per square kilometre. For the purpose of the above list, a city is a community defined to be a city by Austrian law; a town is a community not defined to be a city. Many of Austria's cities have population figures on the order of ten thousand inhabitants; some are even smaller.

Historical development

In terms of boundaries, the present-day state of Salzburg is coterminous with the former Austro-Hungarian Duchy of Salzburg. Austria-Hungary was the extensive multiethnic empire with a German-speaking nucleus, which emerged as the Republic of Austria after the empire was torn apart by nationalist and republicanist forces around the end of World War I. The states of Upper Austria and Lower Austria are essentially equivalent to what were formerly the two autonomous halves of the Archduchy of Austria, a principality which formed the empire's historic heartland. Similarly, the state of Carinthia descends from the Duchy of Carinthia, the state of Styria descends from the Duchy of Styria, and the state of Tyrol descends from the Princely County of Tyrol; these provinces had to cede territories to Italy and Yugoslavia when Austria emerged in its present form. Also, the state of Vorarlberg had been a semi-autonomous part of the County of Tyrol up until 1918. The city state of Vienna was a part of Lower Austria up until 1921. The state of Burgenland is a more or less artificially agglutinated entity made up of the German-speaking area that Hungary ceded to Austria in 1920-1921.

See also

References

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