Habsburg Law

Habsburg Law

The so-called Habsburg Law concerned the rights of the family Habsburg-Lorraine in Austria after the First World War.

First Republic

After Emperor Charles I's declaration of 11 November, "relinquish [ing] every participation in the administration of the State", and the proclamation of the republic on 12 November, 1918, he was given three choices: (1) abdicate formally and remain in Austria as a citizen of the republic; (2) not abdicating but leaving the country; (3)or being interned.

He departed for Switzerland, with which he revoked his waiver on 24 March, 1919, in the "Feldkircher Manifest". The parliament of the state German Austria ( _de. Deutschösterreich) then enacted the Law concerning the Expulsion and the Takeover of the Assets of the House Habsburg-Lorraine of 3 April, 1919, on the initiative of the state chancellor at that time, Dr. Karl Renner.

The former bearer of the crown was permanently expelled from the country; the other members of the family were only expelled if they did not renounce their affiliation to the House of Habsburg with its ruling claims, and accept citizenship in the republic. Those assets of the state that had been under the administration of the imperial court were placed under the state's management. The so-called private funds and family funds of the House of Habsburg, mostly common family property administered by the respective head of the house, were expropriated and transferred to the state property. Personal private property was preserved.

Also on 3 April, the nobility was abolished in German Austria, with the Law on the Abolition of Nobility.

The family demanded that various endowments and funds be placed at their disposal as personal private property; in response to this, and to clear up ambiguities related to this, the Habsburg Law was amended on 30 October, 1919, retroactively from 3 April, expressly recording which of the claimed funds or endowments in particular were to count as expropriated.

When the Austrian Constitution came into force in 1920, the Habsburg Law was made a constitutional law. However, the provisions of the Habsburg Law concerning expropriation were expressly not brought into force in Burgenland in 1922 (as well as the Law on the Abolition of Nobility) when it became part of Austria. This was intended to turn the Burgenland aristocrats (who included members of the Habsburg family) more pro-Austrian, for pragmatic reasons. Hence, it is debatable whether the expropriation provisions (as a constitutional law which does not apply uniformly in the whole national territory) are legally valid since this time.

The state of Austria and the Nazi era

The Habsburg Law was downgraded under Federal Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg on the 13th July, 1935 at the time of the Austrofascist "Ständestaat" (State of estates) from the status of constitutional law to that of normal law; the ban on certain Habsburgs from entering the country was lifted. The "Family-Provision Fund" of the Habsburg family was restored, and substantial property was returned to the fund.

After the "Anschluss", "Reichsstatthalter" Arthur Seyss-Inquart, head of the "Austrian State Government", enacted the "Law on the cancellation of the transfer of property to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine", on the 14th March, 1939, on the grounds of a personal Führer decree; thus, the property passed without compensation to the "Land" Austria", part of the Third Reich.

Second Republic

In 1945, the Second Republic brought into force again the Constitution of 1920/1929 according to its version as of 1933, and with it automatically also the Habsburg Law of 1919. With the Constitution Transition Law, all constitutional laws enacted between 1933 and 1945, and all laws which were not compatible with the constitution that was in force until 1933, were repealed. Thus, the legal situation of the First Republic was restored.

The expropriation that occurred in 1939 could not be contested up to now, because the owner of the Habsburg property in 1938 (the fund) is not stated after 1945 in the Foundation and Fund Reorganization Law as a reestablishable fund, so that could not be established again, and because according to various judgments of the Supreme Court individual members of the family have no claim. Only the not reestablishable fund would have a claim. In 1955, at the explicit request of the USSR the Habsburg law became part of the Austrian State Treaty.

The Republic of Austria made reservations to numerous international agreements after 1945 (convention of human rights, anti-discrimination arrangement, etc.), so that these agreements are not in full validity in relation on the members of the Habsburg family in Austria.

From 1960 many members of the House Habsburg-Lorraine signed the waiver. In 1961 it was also signed by the head of the family Archduke Otto von Habsburg. His entry was delayed until 1966 by the Habsburg crisis, in which the legal validity of his declaration was denied. In this connection the National Council decided to interpret the Habsburg Law authentically, with a majority of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). Permission to enter was granted to the last empress, Zita of Bourbon-Parma, without a waiver, in 1982, because she was a Habsburg only by marriage and could therefore make no claim to the imperial throne. A restoration of the monarchy is currently unrealistic.

Members of the Habsburg family and other families, "that have ruled before", have according to article 60, paragraph 3 of the federal constitution, the same rights and possibilities as any other Austrians, except from being unable to serve as Federal President.

However, the family continues to pursue the fight against the Habsburg law: The financial claims (including castles, apartment buildings in Vienna and about 27,000 hectares of land with an estimated total value of 200 million euros) are substantial. Till present, however, they were dismissed for technical reasons or denied, due to the decisions of the Austrian Supreme Court.

From today's view the question stays juridically open whether the expropriation provisions enacted in 1919 have fulfilled their legal purpose with the expropriation of 1919, and therefore have no more validity for further events (juridically: are consumed), or whether they imply a permanent ban on restitution.

In the report of the historian's committee on the property denial during the Nazi era, which has been in office in 1998-2003, a return ban was denied, while the arbitral authority of the general compensation fund saw such a return ban as evident.

The Arbitration Panel of the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism (decisions 5/2004, 6/2004, 7/2004) has declared that it lacks jurisdiction over applications of the Habsburg family, for reasons of constitutional and international law. In a subsequent complaint of the Habsburg family concerning decisions of the Arbitration Panel, the Austrian constitutional court has likewise declared that it lacks jurisdiction; the president of the constitutional court, Korinek, pointed out to the Habsburg family the possibility of a civil law claim - apparently under the fiction that the Family-Provision Fund did not cease to exist in 1938, did therefore not need to be reestablished, and still exists. The family has not sought the decision of an Austrian authority since then.


In the discussion on the subject, advocates of the expropriation point out that the Habsburgs were to blame for the First World War. The extracted property is only one symbolic compensation for the damage that resulted from the decision to go to war.

Advocates of the return of the family funds argue that the use of the proceeds of the property for war victims, as provided for by the Habsburg law, is out-dated, as no victims of the First World War are alive any more. In addition, they assert that the Habsburg-Lorraine family is not to blame for the war, as it was not a decision of the family. Emperor Franz Joseph I made this decision without consultation with or agreement of members of the family. Hence, it is a case of collective responsibility, making family members liable for their relatives' actions, something that is frowned upon nowadays; and extremely unequal treatment, since no other Austrian noble family has been expropriated.

External links

* [http://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno-plus?apm=0&aid=sgb&datum=19190004&seite=00000513 Habsburgergesetz vom 3.4.1919] (in German)
* [http://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno-plus?apm=0&aid=sgb&datum=19190004&seite=00001188 Habsburgergesetz vom 30.10.1919] (in German)
* [http://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno-plus?apm=0&aid=bgl&datum=19350004&seite=00001355 Ständestaatsgesetz vom 13.7.1935 zur Vermögensrückgabe] (in German)
* [http://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno-plus?apm=0&aid=glo&datum=19390004&seite=00000943 NS-Gesetz vom 14.3.1939 zur neuerlichen Vermögensentziehung] (in German)
* [http://ris1.bka.gv.at/bgbl-pdf/RequestDoc.aspx?path=bgblpdf/1963/19630055.pdf&docid=19630055.pdf Authentische Auslegung des Habsburgergesetzes durch den Nationalrat vom 4.7.1963] (in German)
* [http://www.verfassungen.de/at/adelsaufhebung19.htm Adelsaufhebungsgesetz] (in German)
* [http://www.en.nationalfonds.at/cgi-bin/dynamic?id=20070129123250002&temp= Press Release on Decisions No. 5/2004, 6/2004 and 7/2004]
* [http://www.lexhabsburg.eu Information on the Habsburg Law] (in English and German)

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