Austrian Constitutional Court

Decision V 91/99-11 - Summary



An inhabitant of the municipality of Ebendorf of the political district of Völkermarkt brought a claim before the administrative authorities to enforce his right to use the Slovene language in dealings with public administrative bodies, which includes the right to be informed in the Slovene language. The Austrian government denies that this right should be applied, alleging firstly that such a claim is not covered by the scope of legislation on ethnic minorities and secondly that in any case, the municipality of Ebendorf is not specified within a decree recognising certain bilingual municipalities.

Legislative provisions:

Article 7 Z 3 of the Austrian/Vienna State Treaty of 1955 states:

"In the administrative and judicial districts of Kärnten, Burgenland and Steiermark where there exists a Slovene, Croat or a mixed population, the Slovene or Croat languages will in addition to German be admissible as languages of administration."

Paragraph 2 I 1 Z 3 of the Ethnic Groups Act (BGBl. 1976/396) provides:

"The following are to be determined ..through order ...of the federal government:

3. The authorities and government agencies at which in addition to German as a language of administration the employment of the language of an ethnic group is also permissible, whereby the right to employ this language can be limited to certain natural persons or to certain affairs."

On the basis of the Ethnic Groups Act, an Order on Administrative Languages (31.5.1977, No. 307) specifies any municipality before whose councils the Slovene language as an additional language of administration is admissible.

Paragraph 2, sub para. 1 Z 3 of the Order on Administrative Languages provides:

"The Slovene language is in addition to the German language furthermore admissible in the municipal authorities and government agencies of the municipalities of:...

3. The political district of Völkermarkt: Sittendorf."


Reasoning of the Decision:

The provision contained within Paragraph 2, sub para. 1 Z 3 of the Order on Administrative Languages (No. 307/1977) violates Article 7 of the Austrian/Vienna State Treaty.

So as to avoid difficulties in interpretation, the geographical scope of application of the provision contained within the Austrian/Vienna State Treaty may be more closely defined through Orders. Despite this, such Orders may not limit the scope of application of the Austrian/Vienna State Treaty. In the current case, the regulation of admissible administrative languages was limited to the sole area of Sittersdorf, thereby excluding admission of Slovene as an administrative language before the municipal councils of the Eberndorf which is also within the political district of Völkermarkt. This violates the Austrian/Vienna State Treaty in so far as administrative districts are excluded which would otherwise fall within the scope of the State Treaty provision requirements for the admission of Slovene as an language of administration. The State Treaty foresees the admission of Slovene in addition to German in instances in which a "mixed population" exists within an administrative district (including those municipalities as the smallest form of administrative organisation). This will always be the case where a minority represents a "not entirely insignificant" percentage of the population. A "non-insignificant" percentage exists in instances where such groups form more then 10% of the section of the population. Within the municipality of Ebendorf, 12.3% of the population of the resident Austrian population are Slovene-speakers, hence in this instance representing an administrative district consisting of a "mixed population".

The word "Sittersdorf" in Paragraph 2 II Z 3 of the Order 307/1977 is repealed. Consequentally, those municipalities in which Slovene is admissible as a second administrative language are determined directly from the State Treaty.