Article 1 of the Austrian Federal Constitution of 1920 states that „Austria is a democratic republic. Its law emanates from the people.“ This solemn declaration establishes Austria both as a democracy and as a republic. Both these principles are not to be amended or repealed. Any modification of them would count as a so-called „total revision“ of the federal constitution and would be subject to approval by a majority of the voters in a national referendum.
The state is not supposed to be a family’s business
It was not by mere accident that these two key concepts – democracy and republic – were positioned at the very beginning of the federal constitution: Its inaugural sentence is to affirm that Austria is not – and must not be – a monarchy.
Although monarchies can take different forms, what they all have in common is a king or emperor, a queen or empress figuring as their head of state. When s/he rises to power, s/he does so by virtue of his/her being a member of a royal or imperial family, and s/he remains in power until s/he dies. Such was the nature of the regency of the Habsburg dynasty, to which a major part of what is today Austria was subject through over 600 years. In a monarchy, succession to power is considered to be a family matter, and it is settled within the family.
The Head of State in a republic
The term „Republik“ („republic“), by contrast, denotes that the state is a res publica – a matter of public concern – and not the private matter of a ruling dynasty. A republic, of course, also has a head of state, which is, however, elected for a limited term and is moreover subject to be removed from office.
The Austrian head of state is the Federal President. S/he is elected by the people for a term of six years. To run for the office, a candidate must be aged at least 35 years. Re-election is possible, but a Federal President may not remain in office for a continuous period exceeding 12 years. The Federal President is subject to impeachment before the Constitutional Court and can be voted out of office in a referendum.
Res publica – matters of public concern
The term „Republik“ („republic“) goes back to Latin „res publica“, i.e. matters of public concern, which in a republic are supposed to be the business of the people. Although the history of „res publica“ dates back over 2000 years, it was not until the 17th century that the terms „Republik“ („republic“) and „republikanisch“ („republican“) – by then well established in the French language – came to be used also in German.
As far back as in the ancient Roman Republic, the republic was defined as an antithesis to the monarchy. This also was the time when the term „republic“ came to be associated with a certain commitment to representative government – i.e. government by office holders elected for a limited term – as one basic model for designing a state’s structure. The design of present-day republics, though, may differ strongly: Republics need not necessarily be organized democratically (e.g. China, Vietnam, Cuba), and not all democracies are republics (e.g. United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden).
In Austria, the monarchy was abolished in 1918, after the end of World War I, and replaced by a „democratic republic“. It has come to be called the First Republic and lasted from 1918 to 1933. In 1934, a new constitution was enacted, which turned Austria into an authoritarian state. There was no longer a democratically elected Parliament, and the Federal Chancellor held comprehensive powers. In 1938, Austria was annexed to the German Third Reich and ceased to exist as a state. In 1945, after the end of World War II, the Federal Constitution of 1920 was re-enacted, and Austria resumed its commitment to be a democratic, parliamentary republic (Second Republic).
Citizens participate in public affairs
If the state is to be a res publica – a matter of public concern –, the role of citizens is not that of subjects owing obedience, but of taking an active part in shaping affairs. They do so primarily by participating in elections and votings. This also requires them to be able to keep themselves informed on all matters going on in the state and to actively contribute to the developments in state and society (see the text on Democracy). The freedoms of assembly and of association are to guarantee citizens‘ right to associate. The freedom of expression guarantees their right to freely express their opinion, no matter whether or not the position they take is a critical one. In a democracy, the res publica must be, and must remain, the business of the citizens.
Rights and duties
Citizens have rights and duties vis-à-vis the Republic of Austria. They have the right to participate in shaping politics, in particular the rights to vote and to stand for election. To prove their citizenship of the Republic of Austria, they hold an Austrian passport, which is at the same time an EU passport. They are free to travel. Outside Austria, they enjoy protection by consular and diplomatic authorities. Paying taxes, refraining from any action that would harm the reputation of Austria and, for male citizens, completing a six-month military service, or an alternative service in a social institution, are not merely duties but concrete contributions in support of the res publica.
Our conception of the republic hinges on the principle that the res publica are matters of concern to the citizens of a state. In today’s world, however, many states have residents that are not citizens of that state. While some of them will be its residents only temporarily, others have come to stay: They are working in a job, raising children and living there with their family. As long as they have not acquired the citizenship of that state, however, they will remain excluded from the major rights of political participation.
How to become an Austrian citizen
The conditions and procedure for acquiring and losing Austrian citizenship are laid down in the Citizenship Act (Staatsbürgerschaftsgesetz) of 1985.
There are several ways of acquiring Austrian citizenship: by descent, marriage or award.
Thus, for instance, children acquire Austrian citizenship by birth if either their mother or their father or both are Austrian citizen(s).
Aliens are entitled to be granted Austrian citizenship if they marry an Austrian national and live with him/her in a marital relationship for a period of five years.
Whoever has been a legal resident of Austria for a period of ten years may apply for Austrian citizenship. S/he must, however, earn enough money to cover his/her subsistence, must not have been sentenced to imprisonment by a court of law and must, by passing a special exam, demonstrate an adequate mastery of the German language and a basic knowledge of the democratic system and the history of Austria and of the respective federal state. The applicant must have a positive attitude towards Austria and must renounce previous citizenships. Dual citizenship is permitted only in exceptional cases, for instance if the applicant has rendered, or is likely to render, outstanding services to the benefit of, or in the interest of, the Republic.
Acceptance of a foreign citizenship will entail the loss of Austrian citizenship (except when dual citizenship is permitted in exceptional cases). Entry into another state’s military service will likewise result in a loss of Austrian citizenship.
Withdrawal of citizenship will be the consequence if someone works for another state and thereby harms the interests or reputation of Austria. Likewise, a person who voluntarily in the service of an armed organization participates in active fighting in an armed conflict abroad, will be liable to forfeit of his/her citizenship.
Citizenship awarded to a person may also be revoked if it turns out that s/he has made false statements in the application procedure.
The German-speaking countries use different legal terms to denote the concept of citizenship: While the Austrian term is „Staatsbürgerschaft“ and the German word is „Staatsangehörigkeit“, the term preferred in Switzerland is „Kantonsbürgerschaft“ and, based on it, „Bundesbürgerschaft“.
Citizenship of the Union
Every national of an EU Member State is a citizen of the Union (See the text Austria in a Global Context). Citizenship of the Union is additional and does not replace national citizenship. EU citizens have the rights of free movement and residence throughout the Union, the right of petition, the right to file complaints and obtain information on EU matters in the languages of the European treaties, the right to vote and stand for election in European Parliament elections and in local elections of the EU state of which they are residents.
They are entitled in each Member State, as are its own citizens, to protection by its consular and diplomatic authorities. EU Member States must not discriminate against EU citizens based on their national citizenship.