Federal states of Austria

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Austria is a federal republic consisting of nine federal states. The European Commission calls them provinces.[1] Austrian federal states can pass laws that stay within the limits of the constitution, and each federal state has representatives in the main Austrian parliament.

Federal states of Austria
Österreichs Länder / Bundesländer (German)
CategoryFederal state
LocationRepublic of Austria



The majority of the land area in the federal states of Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Vienna, and Burgenland is situated in the Danube valley and thus consists almost completely of accessible and easily arable terrain. Austria's most densely populated federal state is Vienna, the heart of what is Austria's only metropolitan area. Lower Austria ranks only fourth in population density even though it contains Vienna's suburbs; this is due to large areas of land being predominantly agricultural. The alpine federal state Tyrol, the less alpine but geographically more remote federal state Carinthia, and the non-alpine but near-exclusively agricultural federal state Burgenland are Austria's least densely populated federal states. The wealthy alpine federal state Vorarlberg is something of an anomaly due to its small size, isolated location and distinct Alemannic culture.[citation needed]

Federalism and federal state powers


Each Austrian federal state has an elected legislature, the federal state parliament, and a federal state government (Landesregierung) headed by a governor (Landeshauptmann or Landeshauptfrau). Elections are held every five years (six years in Upper Austria). The federal state constitution, among other things, determines how the seats in the federal state government are assigned to political parties, with most federal states having a system of proportional representation based on the number of delegates in the federal state parliament in place. The governor is elected by the federal state parliament, though in practice the governor is the leader of the majority party or coalition in the federal state parliament.

Vienna, the capital of Austria, plays a double role as a city and a federal state. The mayor has the rank of a federal state governor, while the city council also functions as a federal state parliament. Under the municipal constitution, however, city and federal state business must be kept separate. Hence, while the city council and the federal state parliament have identical memberships, they hold separate meetings, and each body has separate presiding officers. When meeting as a city council, the deputies can only deal with city affairs; when meeting as a federal state parliament, they can only deal with affairs of the state.

Austrian federalism is largely theoretical, as the federal states are granted few legislative powers. Austria's constitution initially granted all legislative powers to the federal states, but many powers have been subsequently taken away, and only a few remain, such as planning and zoning codes, nature protection, hunting, fishing, farming, youth protection, certain issues of public health and welfare and the right to levy certain taxes.

All other matters, including but not limited to criminal law, civil law, corporate law, most aspects of economic law, defense, most educational matters and academia, telecommunications, and much of the healthcare system are regulated by national law. There is also no judiciary of the federal states, since Austria's constitution defines the judiciary as an exclusively national matter. This centralisation follows a historic model where central power during the time of the empire was largely concentrated in Vienna.

However, the federal state governor (Landeshauptmann) is in charge of the administration of much of federal administrative law within the respective province, which makes this post an important political position. Furthermore, federal state competences include zoning laws, planning issues and public procurement on the regional level, which adds considerable weight to federal state politics. As a practical matter, there have been cases where federal states have been able to block projects endorsed by the national government, as in the case of a railway tunnel that was to be built under the Semmering.

Austrian federal states are formally and practically endowed with a much smaller degree of autonomy than American states or German lands. Even so, Austrians tend to identify passionately with their respective federal state and often defend what little independent governance their federal state has. It is not unheard of for Austrians to consider themselves, for instance, Tyrolean first, Austrian second.

Historical development


In terms of boundaries, the present-day federal states arose from the crown lands of Austria-Hungary, an extensive multiethnic realm whose German-speaking nucleus emerged as the Republic of Austria after the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy in the end of World War I.

The federal states of Upper Austria and Lower Austria are essentially equivalent to what were the two halves of the Archduchy of Austria, a principality which formed the empire's historic heartland. Salzburg is coterminous with the former Austro-Hungarian Duchy of Salzburg (the former Archbishopric). Similarly, the federal state of Carinthia descends from the Duchy of Carinthia, the federal state of Styria descends from the Duchy of Styria, and the federal state of Tyrol descends from the Princely County of Tyrol; these three federal states had to cede territories to Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Yugoslavia when Austria emerged in its present form. The federal state of Vorarlberg is made up of territories acquired by the House of Habsburg in the 14th and 15th centuries,[2]: 73  and was a semi-autonomous part of the County of Tyrol from 1861.

The 1815 Congress of Vienna saw most of these areas lose their autonomy. Federal state charters were put in place in 1861, although power remained with the central government. Following the First World War, the federal state governments declared themselves part of the Republic of German-Austria. Negotiations at this time between the federal state governments and the national governments resulted in the agreement to form a federation, with a nationally elected lower house and an upper house representing the provinces.[2]: 73–74 

The city-federal state of Vienna was a part of Lower Austria up until 1921.[3] The federal state of Burgenland is made up of the predominantly German-speaking area that the Kingdom of Hungary ceded to the First Austrian Republic after World War I as a result of the Treaties of Trianon and Saint-Germain-en-Laye.[4]

List of federal states


The nine federal states (Bundesländer) of Austria are:[5]

Federal state (Bundes­land) Capital Popula­tion
(January 2022)
Area (km2) Pop. density
Cities Towns Governor (Landeshauptmann) Incumbent Party Coalition
Burgenland Eisenstadt 0,297,583 03,965 0,075 13 158 Governor Hans Peter Doskozil SPÖ SPÖ
Carinthia (Kärnten) Klagenfurt 0,564,513 09,537 0,059 17 115 Governor Peter Kaiser SPÖ SPÖ, ÖVP
Lower Austria (Nieder­österreich) Sankt Pölten 1,698,796 19,180 0,089 76 497 Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner ÖVP ÖVP, SPÖ, FPÖ
Salzburg Salzburg 0,560,710 07,155 0,078 11 108 Governor Wilfried Haslauer Jr. ÖVP ÖVP, FPÖ
Styria (Steiermark) Graz 1,252,922 16,399 0,076 35 251 Governor Christopher Drexler ÖVP ÖVP, SPÖ
Tyrol (Tirol) Innsbruck 0,764,102 12,648 0,060 11 266 Governor Anton Mattle ÖVP ÖVP, SPÖ
Upper Austria (Ober­österreich) Linz 1,505,140 11,983 0,126 32 406 Governor Thomas Stelzer ÖVP ÖVP, FPÖ, SPÖ, Grüne
Vienna (Wien) Itself 1,931,593 00,415 4,654 01 0 Mayor Michael Ludwig SPÖ SPÖ, NEOS
Vorarlberg Bregenz 0,401,647 02,602 0,154 05 091 Governor Markus Wallner ÖVP ÖVP, Grüne

For the purpose of the above list, a city is a community defined to be a city by Austrian law, and a town is a community not defined to be a city. Many of Austria's cities have population figures on the order of 10,000 inhabitants; some are even smaller.

See also



  1. ^ Directorate-General for Translation (July 2023). "Country Compendium" (PDF). European Commission. Retrieved 24 September 2023.
  2. ^ a b Bußjäger, Peter (2013). "Very Small Worlds: The Austrian Länder as Constituent Units of the Austrian Federation". L'Europe en Formation. 369 (3): 71–85. doi:10.3917/eufor.369.0071.
  3. ^ City of Vienna, History, retrieved 2010-05-17
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Austria - Burgenland, retrieved 18 May 2010
  5. ^ "Parties and Elections in Europe – Austria (States)". Archived from the original on 2012-03-31. Retrieved 2015-09-30.