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Federalism without federal values? Austrian citizens’ attitudes towards federalism and their effects on political culture

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Bußjäger, Peter

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Abstract In his 2004 paper “Austria a federation without federalism?” the Canadian researcher Jan Erk stated that “the Austrian federation seems to work more as a unitary system because all political issues are set in a pan-Austrian frame of reference. This is because the federation lacks territorially based societal heterogeneity to sustain a principled commitment to federalism. Societal homogeneity induces a centralist political outlook at all levels of government which undermines the notion of self-rule in constituent units essential for federalism. (…) [T]he empirical evidence strongly suggests that the Austrian federation's centralist disposition stems from its social structure, not its formal constitution.” (Erk 2004: 20) Jan Erk does not stand alone with this estimation; not even in Austria. In the context of the discussion about the reform of Austrian federalism, Ewald Wiederin, an Austrian scholar and expert on federalism, characterized Austrian citizens’ attitudes towards federalism as follows: “Föderalist ist man nicht in der Sache, sondern für das Gemüt.” (“One is not a federalist when it comes to factual issues but for the mind.”) (Wiederin 2004: 58). This statement implies that federalism is deeply rooted in Austrian citizens’ minds and that they value the existence of the nine Länder. Yet, they are not in favor of lively federalism which results in different laws and different standards throughout the country. According to Wiederin Austrians prefer a unitary federation without federal competition among the Länder. Finally, Peter Bußjäger remarks that Austrian federalism is a problem of mentality (Bußjäger 2002: 149). According to Bußjäger citizens approve of unitary living conditions in the whole country while at the same time being in support of the notion that important matters of legislation remain within the autonomous sphere of competencies of the Länder. Presently this paradox seems to shape Austrian federalism. But is it really true? Is there any empirical evidence that substantiates this thesis?
Keywords Austria; federalism; EU; federation; Bundesland; political culture; political consciousness; attitude
Classification Political Process, Elections, Political Sociology, Political Culture; Political System, Constitution, Government
Document language English
Publication Year 2012
Page/Pages p. 9-26
Journal Federal Governance, 9 (2012) 1
ISSN 1923-6158
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Basic Digital Peer Publishing Licence