Notwithstanding the result of the elections, the first months of the new parliament passed in comparative peace. There was a truce between the nationalities. The Germans were more occupied with their opposition to the Clericals than with their feud with the Slavs. The Czechs refrained from obstruction, for they did not wish to forfeit the alliance with the Poles and Conservatives, on which their parliamentary strength depended, and the Germans used the opportunity to pass measures for promoting the material prosperity of the country, especially for an important system of canals which would bring additional prosperity to the coal-fields and manufactures of Bohemia.
(J. W. He.)
The history of Austria since the general election of 1901 is the Public works policy. history of franchise reform as a crowning attempt to restore parliament to normal working conditions. The premier, Dr von Körber, who had undertaken to overcome obstruction and who hoped to effect a compromise between Germans and Czechs, induced the Chamber to sanction the estimates, the contingent of recruits and other "necessities of state" for 1901 and 1902, by promising to undertake large public works in which Czechs and Germans were alike interested. These public works were chiefly a canal from the Danube to the Oder; a ship canal from the Danube to the Moldau near Budweis, and the canalization of the Moldau from Budweis to Prague; a ship canal running from the projected Danube-Oder canal near Prerau to the Elbe near Pardubitz, and the canalization of the Elbe from Pardubitz to Melnik; a navigable connexion between the Danube-Oder Canal and the Vistula and the Dniester. It was estimated that the construction of these four canals would require twenty years, the funds being furnished by a 4% loan amortizable in ninety years.
In addition to the canals, the cabinet proposed and the Chamber sanctioned the construction of a "second railway route to Trieste" designed to shorten the distance between South Germany, Salzburg and the Adriatic, by means of a line passing under the Alpine ranges of central and southern Austria. The principal sections of this line were named after the ranges they pierced, the chief tunnels being bored through the Tauern, Karawanken and Wochein hills. Sections were to be thrown open to traffic as soon as completed and the whole work to be ended during 1909. The line forms one of the most interesting railway routes in Europe. The cost, however, greatly exceeded the estimate sanctioned by parliament; and the contention that the parliamentary adoption of the Budget in 1901-1902 cost the state £100,000,000 for public works, is not entirely unfounded. True, these works were in most cases desirable and in some cases necessary, but they were hastily promised and often hastily begun under pressure of political expediency.
The Körber administration was for this reason subsequently exposed to severe censure.
Despite these public works Dr von Körber found himself Körber's parliamentary difficulties. unable to induce parliament to vote the Budgets for 1903, 1904 or 1905, and was obliged to revert to the expedient employed by his predecessors of sanctioning the estimates by imperial ordinance under paragraph 14 of the constitution. His attempts in December 1902 and January 1903 to promote a compromise between Czechs and Germans proved equally futile. Körber proposed that Bohemia be divided into 10 districts, of which 5 would be Czech, 3 German and 2 mixed. Of the 234 district tribunals, 133 were to be Czech, 94 German and 7 mixed. The Czechs demanded on the contrary that both their language and German should be placed on an equal footing throughout Bohemia, and be used for all official purposes in the same way. As this demand involved the recognition of Czech as a language of internal service in Bohemia it was refused by the Germans. Thenceforward, until his fall on the 31st of December 1904, Körber governed practically without parliament. The Chamber was summoned at intervals rather as a pretext for the subsequent employment of paragraph 14 than in the hope of securing its assent to legislative measures.
The Czechs blocked business by a pile of "urgency motions" and occasionally indulged in noisy obstruction. On one occasion a sitting lasted 57 hours without interruption. In consequence of Czech aggressiveness, the German parties (the German Progressists, the German Populists, the Constitutional Landed Proprietors and the Christian Socialists) created a joint executive committee and a supreme committee of four members to watch over German racial interests.
By the end of 1904 it had become clear that the system of Baron Gautsch premier. government by paragraph 14, which Dr von Körber had perfected was not effective in the long run. Loans were needed for military and other purposes, and paragraph 14 itself declares that it cannot be employed for the contraction of any lasting burden upon the exchequer, nor for any sale of state patrimony. As the person of the premier had become so obnoxious to the Czechs that his removal would be regarded by them as a concession, his resignation was suddenly accepted by the emperor, and, on the 1st of January 1905, a former premier, Baron von Gautsch, was appointed in his stead. Parliamentary activity was at once resumed; the Austro-Hungarian tariff contained in the Széll-Körber compact was adopted, the estimates were discussed and the commercial treaty with Germany ratified. In the early autumn, however, a radical change came over the spirit of Austrian politics. For nearly three years Austria had been watching with bitterness and depression the course of the crisis in Hungary. Parliament had repeatedly expressed its disapproval of the Magyar demands upon the crown, but had succeeded only in demonstrating its own impotence.
The feeling that Austria could be compelled by imperial ordinance under paragraph 14 to acquiesce in whatever concessions the crown might make to Hungary galled Austrian public opinion and prepared it for coming changes. In August 1905 the crown took into consideration and in September sanctioned the proposal that universal suffrage be introduced into the official programme of the Fejérváry cabinet then engaged in combating the Coalition in Hungary. It is not to be supposed that the king of Hungary assented to this programme without reflecting that what he sought to further in Hungary, it would be impossible for him, as emperor of Austria, to oppose in Cisleithania. His subsequent action justifies, indeed, the belief that, when sanctioning the Fejérváry programme, the monarch had already decided that universal suffrage should be introduced in Austria; but even he can scarcely have been prepared for the rapidity with which the movement in Austria gained ground and accomplished its object.