The Federal President

The Federal President is sworn in before the Federal Assembly. This is more than merely a solemn ceremony – it is the act by which the Head of State is endowed with their authority: The Federal President is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, appoints the Federal Chancellor, has the power to dismiss the Government, dissolve the National Council, reject proposed ministers and much more. Incidentally – the Federal President and the National Council are the only federal institutions elected by direct popular vote.

Great Powers, but Subtly Limited

In the public eye the Federal President is associated with state visits, representation and public speeches. However, the Constitution bestows considerable – if limited - powers on him or her. There are many things the Federal President can only do on the Federal Government’s proposal.

On the other hand, s/he can dismiss the Government if this is indispensable in his or her opinion. S/he can dissolve Parliament on the Government’s proposal. A great many of his/her formal acts have to be countersigned by the Federal Chancellor, the Federal Government or the competent Minister. While s/he is chief commander of the armed forces, his/her decisions have to be taken jointly with the Minister of Defence.

What Distinguishes a Republic from a Monarchy?

The Federal President is elected for a six-year term and can be held responsible for his/her actions. This reflects the republican principle on which the Constitution is based and distinguishes the republic from a monarchy. Emperors and kings are not elected, their term of office is unlimited, and they cannot be held accountable for what they do (though, in times of revolution, some of them have lost their lives on the gallows or the guillotine).

Head of the Administration

The Federal President shares responsibilities with the Federal Government as the head of the Administration. S/he is not subject to any directives other than the laws.

S/he appoints judges and civil servants and has a free hand in appointing the Federal Chancellor. In practice, however, his/her power is strictly limited – firstly because the Federal Chancellor depends on the confidence of a parliamentary majority and secondly because the Federal President can in most cases only act on what the Federal Government proposes.

It rarely happens that the Federal President fails to follow the Federal Chancellor’s proposal when appointing a Minister. Only once, in the year 2000, did a Federal President reject two Ministers proposed by the Chancellor: Thomas Klestil refused to appoint Hilmar Kabas Minister of Defence and Thomas Prinzhorn, who had been nominated as Minister for Infrastructure.

Notary for the State, Emergency Decrees and Amnesties

In general, the Federal President’s tasks are confined to examining, for instance, whether laws have been passed in accordance with the Constitution. In exceptional circumstances, however, such as natural disasters or the outbreak of a war, the Federal President wields special powers: Under strictly defined conditions s/he can issue emergency decrees by which laws are changed and extraordinary measures taken. S/he can also move the seat of the chief organs of the state and the National Council to a different location.

And at Christmas the Federal President traditionally exercises his/her right of amnesty by which convicts are released prematurely.

No Dual Functions

Unlike members of the Federal Government, the Federal President cannot at the same time be a member of the National or Federal Councils.

1929: The Strong President

A Central Task: Forming the Government


The People Elects, the People Deposes


Laws in Good Order




Who Takes over when the Federal President Is Prevented from the Exercise of his/her Functions?

The Federal President and the Federal Council