As part of our weekend in Vienna, Salzburg College took all of us on three tours regarding politics in Austria: the Austrian Parliament, the EU Commission in Vienna, and the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna.
Opened in 1883, after the lessening of royal power, the Parliament, formatted as the House of Representatives and the House of Lords, was used until 1918 when the Austrian-Hungarian Empire collapsed. Following this, is was used by the First Austrian Republic, though it was closed for a period during World War II. Today, it is the home of the National Council and Federal Council along with being the site of many important state ceremonies including the swearing-in ceremony of the President of Austria and the annual state speech on National Day (October 26).
Once you get through security, you enter the Hall of Pillars. There are 24 Corinthian pillars, each weighing around 16 tons. Two are noticeably different when pointed out; they were replaced after bombing in World War II. Another artifact from the bombings is the fact the ceiling is plain glass; originally these were partly stained. Because of its representative character, the Hall of Pillars is used by the President of the National Council and the Federal Council for festive functions, as well as for traditional parliamentary receptions. The room has an echo effect, however, something we discovered by all yelling at the top of our voices.
Reconstructed after the war, the National Council Chamber exemplifies 1950s architecture. Here we talked about all the different parties in Austrian politics, the most important three being the Social Democrats (SPÖ), the Conservatives (ÖFP), and the right-wing group (FPÖ). The National Council consists of 183 members that are directly elected and have five-year terms.
Located right next to the National Council Chamber is the Federal Council Chamber. The Federal Council has a variable and revolving membership who are indirectly elected through provincial assemblies.
The last room we looked at was the former Imperial House of Representatives. The grandest room of the three, it is used today by the Federal Assembly whenever it convenes for special occasions such as National Day and the inauguration ceremony of the Federal President of Austria. Here we learned about how the parliament worked during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire or rather the chaos that occurred with 516 seats and many different languages with no requirement for a standard. That being said, many politicians began their careers here before leading newly independent countries following World War I.
The EU Commission in Vienna
Moving onto European politics as a whole, we visited the European Commission in Vienna. This representative office acts as the Commission’s voice and monitor public opinion in Austria and also provides information about the European Union through events and brochures. Each member of the EU has its own representative office.
When we visited, we got a small tour of the site and then a presentation about the actual Commission. The European Commission promotes the general interest of the EU by proposing and enforcing legislation as well as by implementing policies and the EU budget. It also represents the EU internationally. After this outline, we then were able to ask our guide questions regarding the EU from its agricultural treaties with Ukraine to the process Turkey is going through to try to join the Union. It was during this discussion that I realized another role of the representation was to spread propaganda in favour of the EU. Many of the hard-hitting questions we asked were ignored or twisted, causing some frustration to emerge in certain students.
The United Nations
Last, but not least, for international politics, we visited the United Nations headquarters. Here the main focus is on the offices for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). Unfortunately, there was a mixup for our tour, so we ended up waiting over forty minutes after security until they could send a guide.
We began our tour on the second floor, overlooking one of the conference rooms. Here we talked about the work of translators for every meeting. The UN has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish. For every conference, there are two to three translators who translate in real-time 20 minutes at a time into a microphone for the attendees to listen to.
After finishing talking about the translators, we walked through each of the offices and got an overview of what they do. For example, to help stop the spread of drugs, the UNODC works with third world countries to create local products such as chocolate that they then sell around the world. We finished our short tour back in the main square.