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Constitutional Debates

Federal Constitution
Part of the first page of the federal constitution's resolution from 1920
Source: Austrian parliament / parliament executives
Image source: Parsini

Constitutional Debates
Constitutions regulate principle questions of national communities and their legal systems. They determine the rules of political processes. In the last years constitutional debates did not only take place on EU-level, but in Austria, too. By using the term "Convention" (EU-Convention and Austrian Convention) a concept of high symbolic impact was chosen. It refers to the importance and historical connotation of these debates, especially with regard to the EU-Convention, which was supposed to create nothing less than the fundamental basis of a democratic constituted Europe. In this context the so-called "Convention of Fundamental Rights" (Grundrechtskonvent) might be interpreted as a forerunner model. Through its work, it developed a Charter of Fundamental Rights that was announced solemnly in Nice in December 2000. In the 18th and 19th century similarly important examples of constitutional processes can be found: the French national convention in 1792 and the convention of Philadelphia in 1787. The latter elaborated the new constitution of the United States.

EU-Convention
At the summit of Laeken in 2001 the heads of states and governments decided on the summoning of a "Convention for Europe's future." Here, not only representatives of the member states and the applicant states participated, but also MP's of the European and national parliaments, as well as representatives of the civil society. This new institutional frame prepared the fifth largest revision in the history of European integration treaty. In June 2004 the Heads of State or Government of the 25 Member States and the three candidate countries agreed on treaty for an European Constitution. On 29 October 2004, they signed the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.

The ratification process began, but stopped after the French and the Dutch rejected the text of the Constitution. A period of reflection, explanation and discussion started. In May 2006, the European Ministers of Foreign Affairs decided to extend this period of reflection. In November 2006, the former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi declared that 2007 should be the year of a new beginning in Europe and he argued that Germany and Italy, as two founding members of the European Union, have the historical and moral duty to reinforce the intregration process (http://www.eiz-niedersachsen.de, 7.11.2006). In March 2007, the Berlin declaration was adopted during the festivities at the occasion of the European Union`s 50th anniversary. The word "constitution" is missing within the declaration but the German Chancellor Angela Merkel nonetheless said that she would provide a "road map" for the European Constitution until the end of the German EU presidency in June, 2007. Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, also emphasized the importance of adoping the European Constitution, based on common values, until the European Parliament`s next elections in 2009.

Austrian Convention
The Austrian Convention was based on a political agreement between the national and federal assembly (National- und Bundesrat), the Landtag (state parliament), the federal government (Bundesregierung), the conference of local MP's (Landeshauptleutekonferenz) and the Austrian association of towns and municipalities (Gemeinde- und Staedtebund). Realistic proposals for the implementation of a constitutional reform should thereby be established. The 70 members of the convention incorporated representatives from the succeeding institutions: the federal government, the federal states, the social partners, the Austrian association of towns and municipalities, members of the parliament, the presidents of the constitutional-, high- and administrative court and several experts. Among other important topics one could find a comprehensive analysis of state responsibilities and areas of competence as well as an examination concerning the redistribution of tax income between "Bund", "Laender" und "Gemeinden" (State, Regions and Towns). In January 2005, the president of the Austrian Convention presented the report of the Austrian Convention. The Convention ended without the agreement on a new Constitution, but the report can serve for further discussion.

Online debates
On this site, you will find continuously information about current debates on the reform process in Austria and Europe. Essays established through co-operation with the parliament will be published, and authors will be invited by the "Democracy Center" to make their contributions. We will also try to keep you informed about the initiatives of democratic-political interest such as the "Declaration of Interdependence", organised by the CivWorld Citizens Campaign for Democracy of the Democracy Collaborative, initiated by Prof. Benjamin Barber, and the "Interdependence Day", that started in 2003 and took place for the fourth time in 2006.

Gertraud Diendorfer / Maria Wirth
(Last update: 02/2007)

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