Federalism, principle of governmental organisation according to which the individual subunits have (in contrast with centralism) a relatively large measure of self-government (autonomy) in their relations with the central authorities. The first instance of a federalist structure on Austrian soil appears to have been realised in the Celtic Kingdom of Noricum. Similarly, federalism was the principle underlying the Georgenberger Handfeste treaty concluded in 1186, under which Styria fell to the Babenbergs in 1192 but still retained its autonomy. The conception of the Habsburg Danube Monarchy also had federalist features in that Bohemia (up to 1627) and Hungary were able to maintain their position as sovereign and individual states. The opposition between federalists and centralists first came to a head under the rule of Maria Theresia and was a decisive element of political strife within the Monarchy from 1848 onward. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which enshrined the principle of dualism, blocked a truly federalist solution. At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of "United States of Greater Austria" was promoted before the backdrop of heightened national tensions. The idea was to organise the Monarchy in the form of a federation of linguistically uniform member states. A solution of this nature was also favoured by Archduke Franz Ferdinand and K. Lueger, while the federalist structure envisaged by K. Renner sought to combine the territorial and personal principles. The consequences of the First World War showed that Emperor Karl's October Manifesto of 1918, which had been prepared along these lines by H. Lammasch, came too late; Lammasch's conception was the creation of national states within the scope of Austria-Hungary.
The Republic of Austria adopted the principle of federalism for the organisation of its territory. The Austrian Federal Constitution of 1920 created a basically federalist organisation, even though relatively little scope was given to federalist elements. The following provisions of the Federal Constitution govern federalism in Austria: While the legislative and executive powers are shared by the Federal and provincial governments most important competences reside with the federal authorities, particularly with regard to finances. The Bundeslaender ("laender" = "provinces") only have executive functions in regard of administrative matters. The judicial power is completely reserved to the federal level. The laender participate in federal legislation through the medium of the Bundesrat. A large number of federal executive functions have been entrusted to organs of the laender governments ("executive federalism"). Since 1974 the laender, in particular those in the western part of the country, have sought to strengthen their legal position and powers as well as those of the Bundesrat.
Literature#H. Schambeck (ed.), Foederalismus und Parlamentarismus in Oesterreich, 1992.