District (Austria)

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Austria's 95 current districts. Statutory cities in red.

In Austrian politics, a district (German: Bezirk) is a second-level division of the executive arm of the country's government. District offices are the primary point of contact between resident and state for most acts of government that exceed municipal purview: marriage licenses, driver licenses, passports, assembly permits, hunting permits, or dealings with public health officers for example all involve interaction with the district administrative authority (Bezirksverwaltungsbehörde).

Austrian constitutional law distinguishes two types of district administrative authority:

  • district commissions (Bezirkshauptmannschaften), district administrative authorities that exist as stand-alone bureaus;
  • statutory cities (Städte mit eigenem Statut or Statutarstädte), cities that have been vested with district administration functions in addition to their municipal responsibilities, i.e. district administrative authorities that only exist as a secondary role filled by something that primarily is a city.

As of 2014, there are 95 districts, 80 districts headed by district commissions and 15 statutory cities.[1]

Many districts are geographically congruent with one of the country's 116 judicial venues.

Statutory cities are not usually referred to as "districts" outside of government publications and the legal literature. For brevity, government agencies will sometimes use the term "rural districts" (Landbezirke) for districts headed by district commissions, although the expression does not appear in any law and many "rural districts" are not very rural.

District commissions[edit]

A district headed by a district commission typically covers somewhere between ten and thirty municipalities. As a purely administrative unit, a district does not hold elections and therefore does not choose its own officials. The district governor (Bezirkshauptmann) is appointed by the provincial governor; the district civil servants are province employees.

In the provincial laws of Lower Austria and Vorarlberg, districts headed by district commissions are called administrative districts (Verwaltungsbezirke). In Burgenland, Carinthia, Salzburg, Styria, Upper Austria, and Tyrol, the term used is political district (politischer Bezirk). National law, including national constitutional law, uses all three variants interchangeably. [note 1]

Statutory cities[edit]

A statutory city is a city vested with both municipal and district administrative responsibility.[5] Town hall personnel also serves as district personnel; the mayor also discharges the powers and duties of a head of district commission. City management thus functions both as a regional government and a branch of the national government at the same time.

Most of the 15 statutory cities are major regional population centers with residents numbering in the tens of thousands. The smallest statutory city is barely more than a village, but owes its status to a quirk of history: Rust, Burgenland, current population 1900, has enjoyed special autonomy since it was made a royal free city by the Kingdom of Hungary in 1681; its privilege was grandfathered into the district system when Hungary ceded Burgenland to Austria in 1921.

The constitution stipulates that a community with at least 20,000 residents can demand to be elevated to statutory city status by its respective province, unless the province can demonstrate this would jeopardize regional interests, or unless the national government objects. The last community to have invoked this right is Wels, a statutory city since 1964. As of 2014, ten other communities are eligible but not interested.

The statutory city of Vienna, a community with well over 1.7 million residents, is divided into 23 municipal districts (Gemeindebezirke). Despite the similar name and the comparable role they fill, municipal districts have a different legal basis than districts. The statutory cities of Graz and Klagenfurt also have subdivisions referred to as "municipal districts," but these are merely neighborhood-size divisions of the city administration.[6][7]

Naming quirks[edit]

Austria strictly speaking does not name districts but district administrative authorities. The German term for "district commission" and "city," Bezirkshauptmannschaft and Stadt, respectively, is part of the official proper name of each such entity. This means that there can be pairs of districts whose two proper names contain the same toponym. Several such pairs do in fact exist. There are, for example, two district administrative authorities sharing the toponym Innsbruck: the (statutory) city of Innsbruck and the Innsbruck district commission.

To avoid confusion, the names of the rural districts in these pairs are commonly rendered with the suffix -Land, in this context roughly meaning "region." The customary name for the city of Innsbruck is Innsbruck, the customary name for the district headed by the Innsbruck district commission is Innsbruck-Land. While this usage is nearly universal both in the media and in everyday spoken German and even appears in the occasional government publication, the suffix -Land is not part of any official, legal designation.

History[edit]

Austrian Empire[edit]

Voitsberg District border sign

From the middle ages until the mid-eighteenth century, the Austrian Empire was an absolute monarchy with no written constitution and no modern concept of the rule of law. Provinces were ruled by the monarch, usually the emperor himself or a vassal of the emperor, supported by their personal advisors and the estates of the realm. The precise nature of the relationship between ruler and estates was different from region to region. Regional administrators were appointed by the monarch and answerable to the monarch. The first step towards modern bureaucracy was taken by Empress Maria Theresa, who in 1753 imposed an empire-wide system of district offices (Kreisämter). A major break with tradition, the system was unpopular at first; "in some provinces considerable resistance had to be overcome." The district offices never became fully operational in the Kingdom of Hungary.[8]

Following the first wave of the revolutions of 1848, Emperor Ferdinand I and his minister of the interior, Franz Xaver von Pillersdorf, enacted Austria's first formal constitution. The constitution completely abolished the estates and called for a separation of executive and judicial authority, immediately crippling most existing regional institutions and leaving district offices as the backbone of the empire's administration. Ferdinand having been forced to abdicate by a second wave of revolutions, his successor Franz Joseph I swiftly went to work transforming Austria from a constitutional monarchy back into an absolute one but kept relying on district offices at first. In fact, he strengthened the system. His March Constitution retained the separation of judiciary and executive. It prescribed a partition of the empire into judicial venues, with courts to be headed by professional judges, and a separate partition into administrative districts, to be headed by professional civil servants. An 1849 Imperial Resolution fleshed out the details.[2] The districts started functioning in 1850, many of them already in their present-day borders.

The March Constitution was never fully implemented and formally scrapped in 1851.[9] Officially returning to full autocracy, the Emperor abolished the separation of powers. Administrative districts were merged with judicial venues; district administrative authorities with district courts. [10] Intellectuals aside, few objections were raised. The bulk of the population was still living and working on manorial lands and was still used to the lord of the manor being head of some form of manorial court.

Cisleithania[edit]

Following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Franz Joseph was forced to assent to the December Constitution, a set of five of Basic Laws that restored constitutional monarchy in Cisleithania. One of these Basic Laws, in particular, restored the separation of judiciary and executive.[11] Pursuant to this stipulation, the merger of administrative and judicial districts was reversed the following year;[3] the law in question established the districts in essentially their modern form. No attempt was made this time to impose the scheme on Hungary. The Kingdom of Hungary was now a separate country, fully independent in every respect save defense and international relations, and neither needed nor wanted to copy civil administration policies enacted in Vienna.

No significant changes were made between the 1868 restoration and the 1918 collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. Vienna was growing significantly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, absorbing dozens of suburbs. Three districts disappeared between 1891 and 1918 due to their domains being incorporated into the imperial capital wholesale. Two other districts lost parts of their territories to Vienna. Eleven new districts were carved out of existing districts between 1891 and 1918 due to general population growth.

First Republic[edit]

Following the collapse of the monarchy, the 1920 constitution of the First Austrian Republic retained the district system.[12] At least one of the principal framers, Karl Renner, had suggested to endow districts with county-like elected councils and some degree of legislative authority, but could not gain consensus for this idea.

The 1920 constitution characterizes Austria as a federal republic and its provinces as quasi-sovereign federated states. A 1925 constitutional reform, a broad revision of general devolutionary tendency, transformed districts from divisions of the national executive into divisions of the new "state" executives.[13][14] The replanting had virtually no practical consequences; enforcing national law and handling applications to the national government remain every district's main activities. Province governments have the authority to redraw district boundaries but can neither create nor dissolve districts, nor change how they work, without the assent of the cabinet.[15]

In 1921, Hungary ceded Burgenland to Austria. While part of the Kingdom of Hungary, the rural border region had been partitioned into seven wards (Oberstuhlrichterämter), clusters of small towns and villages headed by a magistrate who served as both the district judge and the supervisor of the local administrators. Austria simply transformed the seven wards into seven new districts. The region also included two royal free cities, Eisenstadt and Rust; these were made into statutory cities, thus also becoming districts.

Land Österreich[edit]

With the March 1938 annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany, Austria initially became a state (Land) of the German Reich. In May, Vienna was expanded to create Greater Vienna (Groß-Wien), absorbing another four districts. Two weakly populated rural districts were discontinued as well. In October, Burgenland was dissolved, its northern half being attached to Lower Austria and its southern half to Styria. [16]

Between May 1939 and March 1940, Austria was dissolved. Its eight remaining provinces became seven Reichsgaue, answerable not to Vienna but directly to Berlin. Several statutory cities lost their special status and were incorporated into the respectively adjacent rural districts; the city of Krems on the other hand was promoted to district status. The districts otherwise remained intact, but they were now German Kreise instead of Austrian Bezirke.

Second Republic[edit]

Reborn with the downfall of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Republic of Austria immediately restored the administrative structure torn down between 1938 and 1940, putting the districts back in place. The only exception were the districts that had been absorbed into Vienna.

Austria had been divided into four occupation zones and jointly occupied by the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and France. Lower Austria, the region surrounding Vienna, was part of the Soviet zone. The capital itself was considered too valuable to be left to any one power and was, just like Berlin, separately divided into four sectors. In drafting their plans, the allies worked from the city's pre-1938 borders. The Nazi expansion of Vienna, however, had made some sense. A number of rural areas incorporated into Greater Vienna were inimical. Most of Lower Austria had been leaning conservative to nationalist for a century; Vienna had been a bastion of Social Democracy for decades. The bureaucracy steering Vienna, a city of industry and finance, was sociologically distant from the agricultural countryside. Some of the suburbs affected, however, had long had much closer ties to the capital than to the rest of their former province, both socially and in terms of infrastructure. Permanently ejecting these suburbs from Vienna would have been inadvisable. Reaffirming the Nazi border changes either entirely or in part, on the other hand, would have led to demarcation discrepancies between Austrian and allied administrative divisions. Disputes regarding communal debt added to the problem.

Hotly contested between the Social Democrats dominating Vienna and the People's Party ruling Lower Austria, the question was not resolved until 1954. One of the traditional districts annexed by the city in 1938 was restored. Parts of several other traditional districts annexed were united to form a second new district.

In 1964, the city of Wels was elevated to statutory city status.

Two other new districts were established in 1969 and 1982, respectively.

Effective January 1, 2012, Styria merged the districts of Judenburg and Knittelfeld to form the Murtal district. The merger was part of program aimed at streamlining the regional bureaucracy. On January 1, 2013, three more mergers followed: Bruck was merged with Mürzzuschlag, Hartberg with Fürstenfeld, and Feldbach with Radkersburg.[17]

List of current districts[edit]

The suffix -Land is not part of the official name of any of the districts using it. In cases where a statutory city and a rural district share the same toponym, the rural district has -Land attached to its name as a matter of customary usage to avoid ambiguity.

Code District Established License plate Administrative seat Population 2014
101 Eisenstadt 1921 E 13,485
102 Rust 1921 E[note 2] 1,942
103 Eisenstadt-Umgebung 1921 EU Eisenstadt 41,474
104 Güssing 1921 GS Güssing 26,394
105 Jennersdorf 1921 JE Jennersdorf 17,376
106 Mattersburg 1921 MA Mattersburg 39,134
107 Neusiedl am See 1921 ND Neusiedl am See 56,504
108 Oberpullendorf 1921 OP Oberpullendorf 37,534
109 Oberwart 1921 OW Oberwart 53,573
201 Klagenfurt 1850 K 96,640
202 Villach 1932 VI 60,004
203 Hermagor 1868 HE Hermagor-Pressegger See 18,547
204 Klagenfurt-Land 1868 KL Klagenfurt 58,435
205 Sankt Veit an der Glan 1868 SV Sankt Veit an der Glan 55,394
206 Spittal an der Drau 1868 SP Spittal an der Drau 76,971
207 Villach-Land 1868 VL Villach 64,268
208 Völkermarkt 1868 VK Völkermarkt 42,068
209 Wolfsberg 1868 WO Wolfsberg 53,472
210 Feldkirchen 1982 FE Feldkirchen in Kärnten 30,082
301 Krems 1938 KS 24,085
302 Sankt Pölten 1922 P 52,145
303 Waidhofen an der Ybbs 1868 WY 11,341
304 Wiener Neustadt 1866 WN 42,273
305 Amstetten 1868 AM Amstetten 112,944
306 Baden 1868 BN Baden 140,078
307 Bruck an der Leitha 1868 BL Bruck an der Leitha 43,615
308 Gänserndorf 1901 GF Gänserndorf 97,460
309 Gmünd 1899 GD Gmünd 37,420
310 Hollabrunn 1868 HL Hollabrunn 50,065
311 Horn 1868 HO Horn 31,273
312 Korneuburg 1868 KO Korneuburg 73,370
313 Krems-Land 1868 KR Krems 55,945
314 Lilienfeld[note 3] 1868 LF Lilienfeld 26,040
315 Melk 1896 ME Melk 76,369
316 Mistelbach 1868 MI Mistelbach 74,150
317 Mödling 1897 MD Mödling 115,677
318 Neunkirchen 1868 NK Neunkirchen 85,539
319 Sankt Pölten-Land 1868 PL Sankt Pölten 97,365
320 Scheibbs 1868 SB Scheibbs 41,073
321 Tulln 1892 TU Tulln 72,104
322 Waidhofen an der Thaya 1868 WT Waidhofen an der Thaya 26,424
323 Wiener Neustadt-Land 1868 WB Wiener Neustadt 75,285
324 Wien-Umgebung 1954 WU Klosterneuburg 117,343
325 Zwettl 1868 ZT Zwettl 43,102
401 Linz 1866 L 183,814
402 Steyr 1867 SR 38,120
403 Wels 1964 WE 59,339
404 Braunau am Inn 1868 BR Braunau am Inn 98,842
405 Eferding 1907 EF Eferding 31,961
406 Freistadt 1868 FR Freistadt 65,208
407 Gmunden 1868 GM Gmunden 99,540
408 Grieskirchen 1911 GR Grieskirchen 62,938
409 Kirchdorf an der Krems 1868 KI Kirchdorf an der Krems 55,571
410 Linz-Land 1868 LL Linz 141,540
411 Perg 1868 PE Perg 66,269
412 Ried im Innkreis 1868 RI Ried im Innkreis 58,714
413 Rohrbach 1868 RO Rohrbach im Mühlkreis 56,455
414 Schärding 1868 SD Schärding 56,287
415 Steyr-Land 1868 SE Steyr 58,618
416 Urfahr-Umgebung 1919 UU Linz 82,109
417 Vöcklabruck 1868 VB Vöcklabruck 131,497
418 Wels-Land 1868 WL Wels 68,600
501 Salzburg 1869 S 146,631
502 Hallein 1896 HA Hallein 58,336
503 Salzburg-Umgebung 1868 SL Salzburg 145,275
504 Sankt Johann im Pongau 1868 JO Sankt Johann im Pongau 78,614
505 Tamsweg 1868 TA Tamsweg 20,450
506 Zell am See 1868 ZE Zell am See 84,964
601 Graz 1850 G 269,997
603 Deutschlandsberg 1868 DL Deutschlandsberg 60,466
606 Graz-Umgebung 1868 GU Graz 145,660
610 Leibnitz 1868 LB Leibnitz 77,774
611 Leoben 1868 LE, LN[note 4] Leoben 61,771
612 Liezen 1868 GB, LI[note 5] Liezen 78,893
614 Murau 1868 MU Murau 28,740
616 Voitsberg 1891 VO Voitsberg 51,559
617 Weiz 1868 WZ Weiz 88,355
620 Murtal 2012 MT Judenburg 73,041
621 Bruck-Mürzzuschlag 2013 BM Bruck an der Mur 100,855
622 Hartberg-Fürstenfeld 2013 HF Hartberg 89,252
623 Südoststeiermark 2013 SO Feldbach 88,843
701 Innsbruck 1850 I 124,579
702 Imst 1868 IM Imst 57,271
703 Innsbruck-Land 1868 IL Innsbruck 169,680
704 Kitzbühel 1868 KB Kitzbühel 62,318
705 Kufstein 1868 KU Kufstein 103,317
706 Landeck 1868 LA Landeck 43,906
707 Lienz 1868 LZ Lienz 48,990
708 Reutte 1868 RE Reutte 31,672
709 Schwaz 1868 SZ Schwaz 80,305
801 Bludenz 1868 BZ Bludenz 61,100
802 Bregenz 1868 B Bregenz 128,568
803 Dornbirn 1969 DO Dornbirn 84,117
804 Feldkirch 1868 FK Feldkirch 101,497
Wien 1850 W 1,766,746

Historical districts[edit]

This section only lists districts covering regions that are still part of present-day Austria. Districts lost following the dissolution of Cisleithania in 1918 are omitted.

Code District Years License plate Administrative seat Population 2011
Floridsdorf 1897 – 1905 Floridsdorf
Floridsdorf Umgebung 1906 – 1938 Floridsdorf
Gröbming 1868 – 1938 Gröbming
Groß-Enzersdorf 1868 – 1896 Groß-Enzersdorf
Hernals 1868 – 1891 Hernals
Hietzing 1868 – 1891 Hietzing
Hietzing Umgebung 1892 – 1938 Hietzing
Pögstall 1899 – 1938 Pögstall
Sechshaus 1868 – 1891 Sechshaus
Urfahr 1903 – 1919 Urfahr
Währing 1868 – 1892 Währing
602 Bruck an der Mur 1868 – 2012 BM Bruck an der Mur 62,000
604 Feldbach 1868 – 2012 FB Feldbach, Styria 67,046
605 Fürstenfeld 1938 – 2012 FF Fürstenfeld 23,000
607 Hartberg 1868 – 2012 HB Hartberg 66,000
608 Judenburg 1868 – 2011 JU Judenburg 44,983
609 Knittelfeld 1946 – 2011 KF Knittelfeld 29,095
613 Mürzzuschlag 1903 – 2012 MZ Mürzzuschlag 40,207
615 Radkersburg 1868 – 2012 RA Radkersburg 22,911

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The 1849 Imperial Resolution creating the district system calls districts just that, "districts." [2] The 1868 Act establishing districts in their modern form adds the terms "administrative district" (Amtsbezirk) and "political administrative district" (politischer Amtsbezirk).[3] The 1920 Federal Constitutional Law prefers "district" but occasionally uses "political district" to emphasize is it not referring to jucidial districts. Over the course of the dozens of revisions the Law has undergone since 1920, all occurrences of either were excised; the version currently in force still mentions district administrative authorities but no longer mentions districts. The 1955 Austrian State Treaty contains a reference to the "administrative districts" of Carinthia, Burgenland, and Styria, even though local legal documents would have called them "political districts."[4]
  2. ^ Rust shares Eisenstadt's E code.
  3. ^ Lilienfeld was established in 1868, dissolved in 1890, and restored in 1897. From 1933 to 1938 Lilienfeld was a branch office of St. Pölten, from 1938 to 1945 a German Kreis, and from 1945 to 1952 a branch office of St. Pölten again. In 1953 it was restored to full district status once more.
  4. ^ LE for the city of Leoben, LN for the rest of the district.
  5. ^ GB for the city of Gröbming and the surrounding areas; LI elsewhere.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Politische Bezirke". Statistik Austria. November 20, 2014. Retrieved November 24, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Kaiserliche Entschließung vom 26. Juni 1849, wodurch die Grundzüge für die Organisation der politischen Verwaltungs-Behörden genehmiget werden; RGBl. 295/1849
  3. ^ a b Gesetz von 19. Mai 1868, über die Einrichtung der politischen Verwaltungsbehörden; RGBl. 44/1868
  4. ^ Staatsvertrag, betreffend die Wiederherstellung eines unabhängigen und demokratischen Österreich; BGBl. 152/1955
  5. ^ Federal Constitutional Law article 116; BGBl. 1/1930; last amended in BGBl. 100/2003
  6. ^ "Die 17 Bezirke". Stadt Graz. 2014. Retrieved November 26, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Registerzählung vom 31. 10. 2011, Bevölkerung nach Ortschaften". Statistik Austria. 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2014. 
  8. ^ Lechleitner, Thomas (1997). "Die Bezirkshauptmannschaft". Retrieved November 28, 2014. 
  9. ^ Kaiserliches Patent vom 31. Dezember 1851; RGBl. 3/1851
  10. ^ Gesetz vom 19. Jänner 1853, RGBl. 10/1853
  11. ^ Staatsgrundgesetz vom 21. Dezember 1867, über die richterliche Gewalt; RGBl. 144/1867
  12. ^ Gesetz vom 1. Oktober 1920, womit die Republik Österreich als Bundesstaat eingerichtet wird (Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz); SGBl. 450/1920
  13. ^ Verordnung des Bundeskanzlers vom 26. September 1925, betreffende die Wiederverlautbarung des Übergangsgesetzes; BGBl. 368/1925
  14. ^ "Bezirkshauptmannschaft (english)". Austria-Forum. March 27, 2014. Retrieved November 24, 2014. 
  15. ^ Federal Constitutional Law article 15; BGBl. 1/1930; last amended in BGBl. 100/2003.
  16. ^ Gesetz über Gebietsveränderungen im Lande Österreich vom 1. Oktober 1938; GBLÖ 443/1938
  17. ^ "Maßnahmen der Verwaltungsreform". Land Steiermark. 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2014.