Ernest von Koerber

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Ernest von Koerber
Ernest von Koerber
18th Minister-President of Cisleithania
In office
19 January 1900 – 31 December 1904
Monarch Franz Joseph I of Austria
Preceded by Heinrich Ritter von Wittek
Succeeded by Paul Gautsch Freiherr von Frankenthurn
25th Minister-President of Cisleithania
In office
29 October 1916 – 20 December 1916
Monarch Franz Joseph I of Austria
Karl I of Austria
Preceded by Count Karl von Stürgkh
Succeeded by Heinrich Graf von Clam-Martinic
Personal details
Born (1850-11-06)6 November 1850
Trento, Austro-Hungarian Empire
Died 5 March 1919(1919-03-05) (aged 68)
Baden bei Wien, Republic of Austria
Religion Roman Catholic Church

Ernest von Koerber (6 November 1850 – 5 March 1919) was an Austrian politician who served as Ministerpräsident (prime minister) of the Austrian Empire in 1900 to 1904 and in 1916.


Ernest von Koerber was born in Trento, now part of Italy, then belonging to Austria. His family was ethnically German.

He became extremely involved in Austrian culture and politics. The study of Rechtsstaat, or constitutionality and civil rights was popular during Koerber's teen years and Koerber and his peers such as Sieghart, Steinbach, Baernreither, and Redlich learned and immersed themselves in this principle.

Koerber’s knowledge of government was apparent when he launched his career as a bureaucrat in 1874. By 1897 Koerber was a member of the Reichsrat (the parliament of Cisleithania, the Austrian portion of Austria-Hungary) and Commerce Minister of Austria. At this time, under the "Dual Monarchy" of Austria-Hungary, there were separate internal governments for Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. Two years later in 1899 Koerber rose to the position of Minister of the Interior. In 1900, Emperor Franz Joseph asked Koerber to create a cabinet and serve as prime minister. This was by far the most influential position of Koerber’s career. Koerber served in this capacity until the end of 1904 when he left office.

First Koerber cabinet[edit]

From the beginning of his term in office, Koerber encountered many difficulties. He had full authority only over Cisleithania. Furthermore, the Reichsrat was politically weak. In order to make major liberal reforms Koerber depended largely on Article 14, a provision which allowed the Emperor to issue an “emergency regulation” for any necessary purposes. The meetings of the Reichsrat quickly transformed into forums for Koerber to bargain with party leaders.[1]

Koerber’s tenure in office was also marked by tensions within Austria-Hungary. The dual monarchy dissipated any sense of allegiance to a single crown. The various ethnic groups resented one another and it became apparent that most government actions would leave at least one offended group.

In military matters, Koerber opposed providing the Hungarian portion of the army (the Hungarian Honved) with its own artillery units. While the emperor advocated such a policy, Koerber sided with Archduke Franz Ferdinand against it, stating that the principle of parity would require the Austrian Landwehr to also have artillery, which Austria could not afford.[2]

Even education was a controversial aspect within the monarchy. The Italians in the Habsburg lands could no longer get a university education within the borders of Austria after it lost Veneto in 1866. Koerber sought to fix this problem and presented a draft law establishing an Italian university. However widespread disapproval from Germans culminated in riots during the aborted inauguration of the first course, to be opened in Innsbruck in November 1904 This forced the government to abandon this project.[3] Koerber also attempted to institute a “National University” with German as the language of teaching but the Italians and Slavs protested this plan.

Koerber pursued reform for the infrastructure of the country, particularly railways and canals. These expansive reforms were made in efforts to appease the Reichsrat and create a sense of regionalism with non-controversial government reforms. Despite Koerber's efforts, these changes did not provide the reaction Koerber expected and attention once again shifted towards the nationality question.[4]

Additionally, Koerber aimed to promote the industrial and communications sectors. He abolished censorship of the press. Koerber believed this would benefit the changing and expansive monarchy. Koerber also exhibited his liberal ideology by reducing the harsh persecution of Social Democrats, allowing them to organize openly in Austria. This was a tremendous stride in individual rights.

Coupled with these strategies was Koerber's economic savvy. Koerber got the Reichsrat to enact his 1902 economic development program without resorting to article 14.[5] But once again, it was to no avail. Many historians believe that Koerber’s emphasis on economic matters over national issues made his administration highly unpopular. Ethnic hostilities ensued despite his attempts at reform. The lack of transition within the state diminished Koerber's dreams and he eventually resigned from office in December 1904. Koerber was succeeded by Paul Gautsch von Frankenthurn, Minister of Education.

Second Koerber cabinet[edit]

Koerber returned to the spotlight during World War I. From 1915 to 1916, Koerber served as Finance Minister of Austria-Hungary (a "k.u.k" ministry which served both countries). In October 1916, Count Stürgkh, prime minister of Austria, was assassinated. Franz Joseph quickly recalled Koerber to return as prime minister.[1] Many had hoped that Koerber would modify the tyrannical system that had developed during wartime.[6] However Koerber came into conflict with the new emperor, Charles I and did not make such changes. In fact, the constant disputes made it difficult for Koerber to get anything accomplished. Koerber still held out hope that Austria and Hungary were able to unite, both politically and socially. Charles I, however, continued to take measures that would hinder this progress. Koerber, an aged man by this point, decided he could no longer take these differences. A few short months later Koerber officially retired from office.

He died shortly after the end of the war, on 5 March 1919, in Baden, a town near Vienna.


  1. ^ a b Taylor , A. J. P. The Habsburg Monarchy. Hamish Hamilton, London 1966
  2. ^ Rothenburg, G. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1976. p 133.
  3. ^ Held, Joseph; Winters, Stanley B., Intellectual and Social Developments in the Habsburg Empire. From Maria Theresa to World War I. Columbia University Press, NYC 1975
  4. ^ Cornwall, Mark. The Last Years of Austria-Hungary; a Multi-National Experiment in Early Twentieth-Century Europe. University of Exeter Press 2002. p. 42
  5. ^ Okey, Robin. The Habsburg Monarchy. Palgrave Macmillan 2001, p. 348.
  6. ^ Kann, Robert. A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918. University of California Press, London 1974

Further reading[edit]

  • Roman, Eric. Austria-Hungary and the Successor States; From the Renaissance to the Present. Facts on File, Inc., New York 2003.

External links[edit]

  • Austria.” The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition 2001. October 31, 2006. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. 2001, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Koerber, Ernest von.” Yahoo Encyclopedia Online 2006. Yahoo Encyclopedia. 31 October 2006.