The President of Austria (German: Österreichischer Bundespräsident, lit. "Austrian Federal President") is the federal head of state of Austria. Though theoretically entrusted with great power by the Constitution of Austria, in practice the President acts, for the most part, merely as a ceremonial figurehead who acts mostly on the advice of the Chancellor and the Cabinet. The President of Austria is directly elected by universal adult suffrage once in every six years. The President's offices are located in the Leopoldine Wing of the Hofburg Imperial Palace, in Vienna.
Many presidents have gained tremendous popularity while in office, and no incumbent has ever lost a bid for re-election, although Kurt Waldheim did not run for a second term in office. Five presidents have died in office. From 2004 to 2016, the office was occupied by social democrat Heinz Fischer. Since the establishment of direct election in 1951, only members of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) (and their predecessors) had been elected to the post (with the exception of Rudolf Kirchschläger, an independent endorsed by both the SPÖ and ÖVP) until the election of Green-endorsed Alexander Van der Bellen in 2016.
Though technically wielding powers comparable to that of the chief executives of semi-presidential systems, in practice, Austria operates under a parliamentary system of government, and the federal president is more a figurehead than an actual interventive politician.
Formally, the president has free rein in appointing the Chancellor and, by extension, free rein in appointing federal cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, military officers, and most major bureaucrats. The president even has the authority to dissolve the National Council (the more powerful lower house of the Austrian parliament) more or less at will. However, in practice, the president takes a mostly ceremonial role akin to that of a British monarch. By convention, Presidents are expected to aim at being nonpartisan custodians of political morality, to serve as symbols of national identity, and not to intervene in actual politics.
Chief appointments officerEdit
The president appoints and swears in the Federal Chancellor and, upon the advice of the chancellor, the federal ministers. In theory, the president can name as chancellor, and by extension a federal minister, anyone whom he sees fit. However the National Council can remove an individual minister or the entire Cabinet from office through a motion of no confidence. Also, a cabinet without enough support in the National Council could easily end up paralyzed. In practice, therefore, the Chancellor and the cabinet are responsible to the National Council. The Chancellor is almost always the leader of the senior partner in the governing coalition, and cabinet composition reflects National Council election results rather than presidential election results.
The president also appoints and swears in judges, military officers, and federal civil servants. Responsibility for the less relevant of these appointments is largely conferred upon the federal ministers, but vacancies in top-level positions such as those of Constitutional Court justices are in fact filled by the president in person. Finally, the governors of Austria's federal states are sworn in by the president.
The president signs bills into law, and some Presidents have vetoed bills. A bill can be vetoed on the grounds that its genesis is in violation of the basic law. Adjudicating upon the constitutionality of the bill itself is the exclusive prerogative of the Constitutional Court.
- The president represents Austria in international relations. Actual foreign policy being cabinet matter, however, this responsibility is exclusively ceremonial. Mainly, the president accredits foreign ambassadors and symbolically acts as the host for state visits to Austria.
- The president is commander in chief of Austria's armed forces. This, too, is largely nominal, the actual head of command being the minister of defense.
- The president has the authority to dissolve the National Council (on advice of the Federal Government), or, in this case pending approval of the Federal Council, a state parliament, but exercising this power without good reason would be an unprecedented breach of constitutional convention. (Note that he or she does need to give a reason, and may only use that reason once during his term of office.)
- The president is a plenipotentiary authorized to rule by emergency decree in times of crisis (this is still a strong power and not a ceremonial responsibility).
- The president can, and frequently does, pardon criminals (this is also still a strong power and not a ceremonial responsibility like in parliamentary systems).
- The president confers the honours and decorations of the Austrian national honours system. From the day of being elected, he is entitled to wear the Grand Star of the Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria for life.
- The president has the right to legitimise children born out of wedlock, upon request by the parents. Since Austrian law, for (almost) all intents and purposes, no longer differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate children, this is no longer of any practical importance.
The Leopoldine Wing of Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna: home to the offices of the Federal President.