Habsburg descendant takes Austria to European Court for Human Rights over election ban

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Habsburg heir takes Austria to human rights court

VIENNA — A descendant of the Habsburgs is taking Austria to the European Court for Human Rights for not allowing him to run for president, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Ulrich Habsburg-Lothringen could not become a candidate in April 25 elections because he lacked the required number of signatures and Austrian law bars members of all ruling or former ruling families from running for the largely ceremonial post.

The Habsburg dynasty was once Europe’s most influential royal house and held power from the 13th to the early 20th centuries.

The ban — which only applies to the presidency and is enshrined in the constitution — dates back to 1919 when Austria became a republic after centuries of monarchic rule. It was meant to quash any aspirations to reclaim the throne by members of the former royal family.

The complaint filed with the Strasbourg-based court argues that the ban violates Habsburg-Lothringen’s human right to participate in democratic elections, said his lawyer, Rudolf Vouk.

“I expect a positive answer in my favor within a period of one or two years,” Habsburg-Lothringen told Austrian radio Oe1.

While a complaint he filed with Austria’s constitutional court was unsuccessful, there appears to be an increasing political push to scrap the provision.

Heinz Fischer, Austria’s current president, said recently that the time has come to do away with it “Someone who can become chancellor or president of parliament should, in our mature democracy, also be able to become president,” Oe1 quoted him as saying.

The center-right People’s Party and opposition Greens have spoken in favor of lifting the ban, but the Social Democrats, Fischer’s party, have been skeptical.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also has weighed in. In a report issued after the April elections, it said the provision appeared to be “anachronistic in the modern political environment and may be considered an unreasonable restriction on the right to be elected.”

It added that “consideration should be given to removing the prohibition.”

Austria’s next presidential polls are set for 2016.

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