THE FEDERAL COUNCIL OF AUSTRIA
This is the parliamentary Assembly representing the provinces (Länder) at federal level.
I - COMPOSITION
62 indirectly elected members, representing the 9 Länder.
The number of representatives from each Land is proportional to that of its population.
The most populated Land sends 12 representatives, the others send representatives on the basis of their population in relation to the most populated Land (those above a half are rounded up to 1).
Each Land nevertheless has the right to be represented by 3 members.
Each member of the Council is allocated an alternate.
The presidency of the Federal Council rotates every six months, by alphabetical order of the Länder. The first representative of the Land holding the presidency is President.
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Method of election
The members of the Federal Council and their alternates are elected by the Landtage (provincial legislatures) on the basis of proportional representation.
At least one seat must be given to the party having the second largest number of seats in the provincial legislature or, if two or more parties hold an identical number of seats, to the party that won the second largest number of votes in the last provincial election. In the case of this being equal for several parties, the drawing of lots takes place.
The members of the Federal Council are not required to belong to the Landtag that sends them; however, they must be eligible to hold a position within it.
Term of office
The same as that of the provincial legislature (5 to 6 years, depending on the province).
III - PARLIAMENTARY SESSIONS
A - Permanent Session.
The Federal Council sits from October to July, with a recess in August and September.
B - The Federal Council is convened by its President. He is required to do so immediately should a minimum of Œ of its members or the federal Government request this.
C - The agenda is set by a Conference of Presidents.
IV. - RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE
A -LEGISLATIVE POWERS
1) Legislative initiative
Granted to the Federal Council or to 1/3 of its members, conjointly with the deputies, the federal Government, at least 100,000 electors or at least 1/6 of the electors of three Länder.
The majority of laws originate from the Government.
Government and private bills are introduced into the National Council.
2) Right of amendment
3) Legislative procedure
The procedure for examining texts is the following:
Government and private bills are initially introduced into the National Council.
All texts passed by the National Council must be passed on immediately to the Federal Council.
A government or private bill can be neither promulgated nor published unless the Federal Council is in agreement with it.
The President of the Federal Council must put any objections in writing to the National Council within 8 weeks following receipt of the text by the Federal Council.
The Federal Council does not intervene in certain texts relating to budgetary or financial affairs.
If the National Council repeats its initial vote in the presence of at least half of its members, this decision must be promulgated and published.
If the Federal Council decides not to oppose it, or if no reasoned objection is made within the established period of time, the passed law must be promulgated and published.
The government or private bill is examined by a committee prior to examination in plenary sitting.
The bulk of the parliamentary work is undertaken by committees, whose composition reflects that of the assembly as a whole.
Discussion in plenary takes place 24 hours or more after distribution of the committee's report, unless urgent.
B - THE POWER OF SCRUTINY
1) General powers of scrutiny
The Federal and National Councils are authorised to scrutinise the federal Government's conduct of affairs, to question its members with regard to all subjects of Executive competence, to request any information and to make known their wishes with regard to the exercise of federal power.
2) Scrutiny of companies
A right of scrutiny comparable to that described in 1) above also exists with regard to the federal Government and its members concerning companies in which the Federation holds at least a 50% of the share, start-up or equity capital, and which are subject to the control of the Court of Auditors. A dominant position in a company by other financial, economic or structural means is considered to be equivalent to such financial participation.
a) Members of the Federal Council may put written questions to Government members, who must provide a written or verbal response within two months, unless there is a justifiable reason as to why they should not.
Under certain circumstances, a short debate may be organised around their response.
b) In principle, each sitting of the Federal Council commences with Question Time (as does that of the National Council). Following the reply to a question, the author of the question may put a supplementary question, as may other members of the Council (according to the rules, this right is granted to one member from each parliamentary group other than that of the author of the question).
4) The Federal Council and its committees (like the National Council and the Federal Assembly) may request the presence of members of the federal Government and request them to undertake certain inquiries.
The National Council may formulate its wishes with regard to the exercise of executive power in the form of a resolution.
6) European issues
The federal Government informs the Federal Council of proposals received for appointment of members of the Commission, the Court of Justice, the Court of the First Instance, the Court of Auditors, the board of directors of the European Investment Bank, the Economic and Social Council and the Committee of the Regions.
b) Opinion on proposed European acts
The federal Government must immediately inform the Federal Council (and the National Council) of proposed European acts and invite them to give an opinion.
In the event that the Federal Council submits an opinion to the federal Government concerning a proposed European act that has to be implemented by a federal law requiring the Federal Council's approval, this opinion is binding upon the federal Government in negotiations and votes within the European Union. It may only distance itself from this opinion for imperative reasons of European and foreign policy.
7) In international affairs
The conclusion of treaties that include elements falling within the autonomous competence of the Länder requires the agreement of the Federal Council.
C - RIGHT OF GOVERNMENT ACCESS
Members of the federal Government are authorised to take part in any of the Federal Council's deliberations (similarly those of the National Council and the Federal Assembly), along with their committees.
They have the right to be heard in the Federal Council whenever they request it.
V - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS
A - CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS
When constitutional laws or constitutional measures within ordinary laws reduce the legislative or executive competence of the Länder, they require the agreement of a 2/3 majority of the votes cast by a quorum of at least half the members of the Federal Council. This is also the case for constitutional amendments affecting the Bundesrat.
Following a parliamentary process, 1/3 of the members of the National or Federal Councils may demand that a partial revision of the Constitution be submitted to a referendum.
B - IN RELATION TO THE LÄNDER
1) The heads of government of the Länder have the right to take part in Federal Council debates.
If they so request, they have the right to be heard at any moment with regard to issues relating to their Land.
2) The agreement of the Federal Council is required before the federal President can, at the request of the federal Government, dissolve a Landtag. This is obtained if there is a 2/3 majority vote in the presence of at least 1/2 the members. The representatives of the Land whose Parliament is likely to be dissolved do not have the right to participate in this vote.
C - COMPETENCE OF THE FEDERAL ASSEMBLY (the National and Federal Councils jointly).
1) Swearing-in of the federal President before the federal Assembly at the time of taking up his post.
2) Responsibility of the federal President to the Federal Assembly, which may indict him before the Constitutional Court for violation of the Constitution.
On the decision of the National Council or Federal Council, the Federal Chancellor must convene the Federal Assembly in order to bring this responsibility into play.
A decision to indict requires a 2/3 majority vote in the presence of at least 1/2 the members of each of the two assemblies.
3) The federal President can only form the subject of proceedings by the public authorities with the consent of the Federal Assembly.
The demand to take the federal President to court must be submitted to the National Council by the appropriate authority, who then decide whether it should be referred to the Federal Assembly. If the National Council decides in favour of prosecution, the federal Chancellor must immediately convene the federal Assembly.
3) Suspension of the federal President
The President may be relieved of his duties by a plebiscite undertaken at the request of the Federal Assembly, the decision being taken by a 2/3 majority vote in the presence of at least 1/2 its members.
4) Resolution concerning declarations of war.
D - the CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
1) The constitutionality of federal laws may be referred to the Constitutional Court by 1/3 of the members of the Federal Council (along with a Land government or 1/3 of the members of the National Council).
2) Three members (out of 12) and one alternate member (out of 6) of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the federal President, on the proposal of the Federal Council.