How laws are made

The process by which a law comes into being has to be regulated in great detail.

How a Federal Law is made

The legislative process has to be fair and transparent, and it has to make sure that the general public is adequately informed. Formal requirements and compliance with specific deadlines are especially important to ensure transparency.

Who Can Initiate Legislation?

The political discourse constantly produces proposals for the modification of existing or the passage of new laws. In order for the National Council to be able to deal with such a proposal, however, there must be a bill, which must be presented in the form of a motion.

There are many reasons why new laws are sought or changes in existing laws proposed: whenever the Federal Government wishes to implement a project, it has to create the necessary legal basis. The Members of Parliament are elected by virtue of a programme they wish to see realised and as representatives of interest groups: as such, they want to make sure that as many of their ideas as possible are translated into law.
The impetus to pass a new law often comes from outside Parliament or the government: various organisations and initiatives address their proposals to politicians. EU Directives have to be implemented by Austrian laws. In some cases the Constitutional Court repeals a law so that a new law has to be passed.

The Federal Government: Drafts, Expert Review, Government Bills

Private Members’ Bills

Council Motions

Procedure in the National Council

In the National Council bills are deliberated in the competent committees and in the plenary. Before a bill is adopted it has to be studied and discussed in great detail.

The First Step: Referral to a Committee

Preliminary Deliberations in Committee

Deliberations in Plenary

A Special Case: State Treaties

Procedure in the Federal Council

The Federal Provinces are also involved in the legislative process. Their representatives in the Federal Council can confirm a bill passed by the National Council or veto it.

Transmission to the Federal Council

Every National Council enactment is without delay transmitted to the Federal Council. It can only be authenticated and promulgated if the Federal Council raises no objection. The only exceptions are laws concerning the rules of procedure of the National Council, the federal budget, certain financial laws and the final federal budget account, where the Federal Council has no right of participation.

Acceptance or Rejection

Procedure in the Federal Council is similar to that of the National Council. Its business is transacted in committee and plenary sittings. While the Federal Council cannot change legislative proposals adopted by the National Council, it can reject them within a period of eight weeks by means of a reasoned objection to the National Council enactment. In so doing it exercises its veto power, which has, however, only a suspensive effect in most cases.

The National Council “Insists“ on its Enactment or Amends it

In this case the National Council has to deliberate once more on its enactment. In so doing it can reiterate its original decision on condition that at least one half of its Members are present. This “insistence” is final, and the Federal Council cannot object to it any more – it can thus only delay final enactment by what is called a “suspensive veto”. Should the National Council react to the Federal Council’s objection by amending its enactment, the modified text will again be transmitted to the Federal Council for scrutiny.

The Federal Council’s Right of Approval

The approval of the Federal Council is required whenever the legislative or executive powers of the federal provinces are to be curtailed by the Federal Constitutional Act or any other constitutional laws. This means that any such law can only be enacted with the express approval of the Federal Council – or in other words, in these cases the Federal Council has an “absolute veto power”. For such a veto a two-thirds majority of the votes cast in the presence of at least one half of the Members of the Federal Council is required.

Authentication and Promulgation

Before a law enters into force it must be authenticated by the Federal President as having been passed in good order. Once authenticated it is published in the Federal Law Gazette.

Authentication by the Federal President

Now the Federal President has to authenticate the enactment, i.e. s/he confirms that the law has been passed by the correct procedure required by the Constitution. The law is then also signed – the correct term is “countersigned” – by the Federal Chancellor.

Promulgation in the Federal Law Gazette

The law is then promulgated, i.e. published, in the Federal Law Gazette. This is done to enable all interested parties to study its contents. The law enters into force on the day following promulgation or on a date specified in it. From that date onwards everybody in Austria is bound to comply with its provisions. While until a few years ago there was an actual “gazette” in which the text was published in printed form, the Federal Law Gazette is now published on the internet. Those interested can access it under to find updated versions of any law. Alternatively, they may subscribe to a daily newsletter that provides information on new legislation.