The Austrian Economic and Social Council was set up in 1963 on the basis of an informal agreement between the four major bodies from the two sides of Austrian industry (the Federal Economic Chamber, the Federal Chamber of Labour, the Confederation of Trade Unions and the Standing Committee of Presidents of the Chambers of Agriculture). This agreement is amended and updated from time to time in line with changing circumstances. The Council therefore has no legal personality. It is not based on any piece of legislation but, as with the overall system for organising the social partners in Austria, it is based on a voluntary, informal approach. The Council issues studies and reports on economic and social policy issues containing joint - therefore unanimous - recommendations from these four bodies, addressed to the federal government and the other economic and social policymakers.
The Council's tasks include the following: examining economic and social policy issues as they affect the national economy; issuing recommendations for achieving stable purchasing power, steady economic growth and full employment; putting forward proposals for improved coordination of economic and social policy measures and dealing with basic questions in these areas. The Council has to take account of the need to work through economic policy issues by drawing up economic reports; it is therefore an institution which adopts an objective approach to political discussions by working out common bases and compiling facts and information in a non-conflictual manner. This comprises the starting point for joint measures and recommendations prepared by the social partners for the federal government and others responsible for economic and social policy. In the course of its work, its tasks have been expanded and generally speaking today include contributions to economic and social policy, i.e. over and above macrœconomic topics, its remit also includes structural development and micrœconomic issues. In the most recent social partner agreement, the following objectives were laid down, amongst others: steps to improve international competitiveness by means of investment, research, higher productivity and improved quality; the promotion and development of human skills and aptitudes, particularly through training and further training; the preservation and improvement of a humane working environment and further development of the fairest possible social structures
The Council comprises a total of 21 people: 16 council members and five permanent experts. In addition, it has two managing directors (secretaries-general), one from the employers' side and the other from the trade union side. The members and experts essentially represent the top people in the four main social partner bodies in matters pertaining to economic and social policy. The only member not representing the social partners is the head of the Austrian Institute for Economic Research, who is appointed as a permanent expert.
The size, structure and working methods of the Austrian Council are quite different from the European, French or Italian economic and social councils. Due to its informal legal structure, it has no binding, written rules of procedure, nor dœs it have its own premises or budget. The de facto rules of procedure of the Council have been developed with practice, based on precedence, and are not legally binding. The chairmanship (presidency) of the Council changes every six months and is shared between the four bodies representing the social partners. The chairman (president) heads up the meetings of the Council and represents it outside. The Council meets once a month on the premises of the organisation holding the chair at the time. Its meetings are confidential and not public. Council statements are usually consensus-based. Various wordings are discussed until a consensus is reached. There is therefore no provision for abstentions and minority votes occur only in exceptional cases. Members and presidents are appointed from within the four social partner bodies represented on the Council, according to their own internal rules of procedure. In principle, their mandate is unlimited in duration and can be withdrawn at any time by the organisation to which they belong. The activities of the Council members, the chairman and both secretaries-general are unpaid. All of their Council-related activities are carried out as part of their usual duties in their own organisations. Any costs incurred in the course of the Council's activities (publications, conferences, etc.) are usually shared equally between the four social partner bodies.
Traditionally, the Council draws up its reports in the following way: The presidents of the four social partner bodies instruct the Council to draw up a report on a specific subject. The Council sets up a working group to draft the report. External experts can also be brought in; these can be from ministries, economic research bodies, universities and other relevant areas. The working group then submits its text to the Council. The latter will - under the overall control of the secretaries-general - word the recommendations in such a way that it is possible for the report to be adopted unanimously by the Council. Reports and recommendations are sent on to the presidents of the four social partner bodies requesting their permission for publication. Only after this permission has been given is the Council's report made public. The report is officially forwarded to the federal government, included in the Council's publication series and normally presented to the public at a press conference. The importance of the Council's reports and recommendations lies above all in the fact that expert knowledge is turned to good use in a body close to policy-making circles, in order to work out a consensus view amongst all the social partners.