Austria - Political background

Austria became a republic with its present borders established by the Treaty of St. Germain in June 1919. It was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938, but reestablished under Allied occupation in May 1945. Following its liberation, Austria was occupied by the four Allied Powers: the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1955, with occupation ending, Austria officially adopted neutrality as its foreign policy. Soon thereafter, Austria was admitted to the United Nations (UN).

Austria is a federal republic in which the executive power is divided between the federal president (Dr. Thomas Klestil as of 2003) and the federal cabinet. The president is elected for six years by popular suffrage. The president acts as a head of state, appoints the cabinet, and calls Parliament into session. He can dissolve the Nationalrat (National Council) during its four-year legislative period but must obtain consent of the cabinet, which is the real power center and is led by the chancellor. The Parliament is a bicameral legislature and consists of the Nationalrat with 183 members and the Bundesrat (Federal Council). The president appoints the chancellor (Wolfgang Schüssel as of 2003), who must maintain a majority in the Nationalrat. This feature makes the Austrian government a parliamentary system. In reality, the president is more or less a ceremonial state figure while the chancellor acts as the head of government.

Austria is a multiparty democracy with an electoral system based on proportional representation. The voting age is 18 and every citizen over the age of 19 is eligible to run for Parliament. The two preeminent parties since the end of World War II have been the Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei—ÖVP) and the Social Democratic Party (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs—SPÖ). There have been three minority parties: the Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs—FPÖ), the United Greens of Austria (Verinten Grünen Österreichs—Green Party or GPÖ), and the small Liberal Party. The ÖVP represents the moderate right; the SPÖ represents the moderate left. The FPÖ is a mixture of different rightist attitudes, ranging from conservatism to fascism, built upon pan-Germanic traditions. The Green Party is an environmental party with certain leftist, pacifist, and feminist goals.

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