The Constitutional Court of Austria

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The Constitutional Court in the International Context

Maintaining intensive international contacts with constitutional courts in Europe and other parts of the world – both bilaterally and multilaterally – is a matter of special importance to the Austrian Constitutional Court. Foreign constitutional courts also greatly appreciate such contacts, given the fact that the Austrian Constitutional Court, as the world’s oldest specialized constitutional court, has played a pioneering role in the development of constitutional jurisdiction and enjoys an excellent reputation all over the world.

The regular exchange of opinions and experience with the constitutional courts of Austria’s neighbouring states is a special priority for the Constitutional Court. In the wake of the political transformation in Europe over the past two decades, constitutional courts have been set up in all these states – a most welcome development for the benefit of democracy and the rule of law. Moreover, time and human resources permitting, the Constitutional Court also makes an effort to maintain contacts with other European and non-European constitutional courts.

Engaging in dialogue with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a matter of particular interest for the Constitutional Court, as it is crucial to secure the uniform interpretation and application of the European Convention on Human Rights at the supranational and national levels. Considering Austria’s specific situation, with the European Convention on Human Rights not only having the status of a treaty under international law, but also being part of the Austrian Constitution, such cooperation is particularly important. Close contacts with the Court of Justice of the European Union are equally important for the Constitutional Court. It is beyond any doubt that a uniform application of European Union law, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is essential for the functioning of the European Union as a whole, can only be guaranteed through cooperation between the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, on the one hand, and the national constitutional courts, on the other hand.

At the multinational level, the regular meetings of the German-speaking constitutional courts, i.e. those of Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria, with representatives of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union (the so-called “group of six” meetings) deserve to be mentioned. These meetings were initiated in Basel in 2004 and have since taken place every two years in Karlsruhe, Vienna, Lausanne and Luxembourg, providing a platform for open and intensive dialogue among these courts.

At the European level, the Conference of European Constitutional Courts, founded in 1972, has established itself as the most important European forum for the exchange of experience and opinions on constitutional issues among its forty full members. As stated in the preamble to the Statute of the Conference of European Constitutional Courts, the activities of the Conference primarily serve to allow regular contacts among constitutional courts and to promote an exchange of experience on constitutional practice and jurisprudence within the framework of regular specialized congresses. The aim of the Conference is to enhance the independence of constitutional courts as an essential factor in guaranteeing and implementing democracy and the rule of law, in particular with a view to securing the protection of human rights.

The Constitutional Court, convinced of the growing need for networking among national constitutional courts, especially within a European framework, greatly appreciates this Conference as a platform for substantive exchanges.

In view of the new challenges arising for scholars and practitioners of constitutional law, as well as for the Conference of European Constitutional Courts, through the growing internationalization of constitutional law, the dialogue with the European Court of Human Rights, and the advancing constitutionalization of European Union law as a matter of utmost importance for more than half the members of the Conference, the availability of a platform for networking is crucial. The comparative study of constitutions and constitutional jurisprudence is continuously gaining in importance.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Austrian Constitutional Court is presiding over the Conference of European Constitutional Courts. The crowning event of the Austrian presidency will be the XVIth Congress of this Conference on the theme of “Co-Operation of Constitutional Courts in Europe – Current Situation and Perspectives”. Under this heading, essential questions relating to the mutual influence of the jurisprudence of European constitutional courts as well as the interaction between the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union will be discussed against the background of the legal framework provided by the Treaty of Lisbon.

The Austrian Constitutional Court’s interest in the international cooperation of constitutional courts is confirmed by its status as a founding member of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice, an institution that was founded in 2011 thanks to a highly commendable initiative of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and to which approximately 80 constitutional courts and similar institutions have since acceded.