Austrian Constitutional Court

Decision 213/2001 - Summary

 

Facts:

A fine had been imposed on the applicant for exceeding the speed limit in the municipality of Eberndorf. Notification of the fine was produced in the Slovene language. The applicant admitted to having exceeded the speed limit, yet challenges the legitimacy of the offence as the road signs (locality signposting) within the municipality were not in accordance with Art. 7 2 3 of the State Treaty as they had not been erected in both the German and Slovene languages, hence representing a lack of promulgation of the offence. The legality of the Order and that of the Ethnic Groups Act were considered within the context of the application.

Legislative Provisions:

Paragraph 7 Z 3 of the State Treaty states:

"In the administrative and jurisdictional districts of Kärnten, Burgenland and Steiermark where there exists a Slovene, Croat or mixed population, in addition to the German language, the Slovene or Croatian languages shall be admissible as language of administration. In such districts all signs and inscriptions of a topographical nature are alongside the German language to be produced in the Slovene or Croat language."

Article 2 I Z 2 of the Ethnic Groups Act stipulates:

"The following ... are to be determined ... through order of the Federal Government:

  1. The districts in which, on the basis of a proportionally considerable section (one quarter) of members of ethnic groups resident in such areas, bi-lingual topographic signs are to be erected"

Article 12 of the Ethnic Groups Act provides:

"To be determined within the Order related to Para. 2 Z 2 are firstly the localities which are to receive bi-lingual signs and secondly the topographic signs in the language of the ethnic group concerned which are to be erected alongside those in the German language."

Paragraph 1 of the Order on the determination of districts for the purposes of erecting topographical notations in the German and Slovene languages (VO 1977/306) enact (on the basis of Para. 2 Z 2 and Article 12 of the Ethnic Groups Act) the following:

"Signs and inscriptions of a topographical nature...in both the German and Slovene languages...are to be erected in the following districts:

...

  1. Within the political district of Völkermarkt: within the municipality of Bleiburg...and in the municipality of Neuhaus in the area of the former municipality of Schwagbegg..."

 

 

Reasoning of the decision:

I Repeal of the wording "on the basis of a proportionally considerable section (one quarter) of members of ethnic groups resident in such areas" in Para. 2, sub-para. 1 Z 2 of the Ethnic Groups Act on the basis of unconstitutionality.

II Repeal of the wording "within the municipality of Bleiburg...and in the municipality of Neuhaus in the area of the former municipality of Schwagbegg" in para. 1 Z 2 of the Order of the Federal Government concerning the determination of districts for the purposes of erecting topographical notations in the German and Slovene languages (VO 1977/306).

III Annulment of current sign-posting contained within traffic legislation.

 

  1. In Austrian law there exists a differentiation between the sign-posting of municipality, i.e. the determination of the boundaries of the area in the context of the municipal zone, and so-called locality signposting, i.e. traffic signs which determine not only the beginning of a locality, but also the maximum speed limit. In the present case it was considered whether in the latter case of informative signposting, bi-lingual signs would be necessary.
  2. Within the concept of "administrative district" contained within Article 7 Z 3 of the State Treaty are to be included local communities within the overall municipality, i.e. localities. In accordance with the meaning and aim of the provision there should be included as a general measure signposting and inscriptions of a topographical nature in the minority language which itself within that area is spoken by a significant proportion of inhabitants.

    The local traffic signposting serves the function of displaying the name of the locality, as determined within the municipality. The local signposting therefore falls under the scope of application of the State Treaty and hence in areas with a mixed population, bi-lingual signs must be erected.

  3. Within the context of Article 7 Z 3 of the State Treaty, a "mixed population" to be construed as an area in which a large number of inhabitants belonging to an ethnic minority form a not insignificant proportion of the population.
  4. It has been determined that the size of the bi-lingual section of the population in matters relating to bi-lingual topography is to be related to a specific locality of a district. Consequentially, bi-lingual localities may retain bi-lingual inscriptions even in cases where the proportion of members of an ethnic group appear to be too low so as to speak of a "mixed population". Conversely, mono-lingual inscriptions may indeed appear within relatively mono-lingual localities within a bi-lingual municipality.

    The determination as to whether a "mixed population" exists may be achieved through extensive statistical data, for example, that of a census. The meaning of a "considerable proportion" of the population will not be closely defined, moreover must be determined by means data interpretation. In this instance, such sources as current international practice shall be applied. The State Treaty must be interpreted in conformity with international law. Within the context of such, a proportion of between 5 25 percent, reaching up to 30 per cent would be valid. In the light of the aims and development of the provisions contained within the State Treaty, it would not be possible to determine a minority proportion of a minimum of 25 per cent (hence falling within the maximum level of the international band). A proportion of 10 per cent would be regarded as being constitutionally acceptable. The wording "one quarter" contained within Para. 2 Z 2 of the Ethnic Groups Act thereby violates the State Treaty. Since the latter is of constitutional status, the provision in question is to be repealed.

  5. The provision within road traffic laws that restricts the erection of bi-lingual local signposting for certain municipalities (despite a considerable minority population) is repealed.

 

Source: MIRIS