Ernest von Koerber

Last updated
Ernest von Koerber
18th Minister-President of Cisleithania
In office
19 January 1900 31 December 1904
Monarch Franz Joseph I of Austria
Preceded by Heinrich Ritter von Wittek
Succeeded by Paul Gautsch Freiherr von Frankenthurn
25th Minister-President of Cisleithania
In office
29 October 1916 20 December 1916
Monarch Franz Joseph I of Austria
Karl I of Austria
Preceded by Count Karl von Stürgkh
Succeeded by Heinrich Graf von Clam-Martinic
Personal details
Born(1850-11-06)6 November 1850
Trento, Tyrol, Austrian Empire
Died5 March 1919(1919-03-05) (aged 68)
Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria, Austria

Ernest Karl Franz Joseph Thomas Friedrich von Koerber (6 November 1850 – 5 March 1919) was an Austrian liberal statesman who served as Minister-President of Cisleithania from 1900 to 1904 and again in 1916.

Austria Federal republic in Central Europe

Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a country in Central Europe comprising 9 federated states. Its capital, largest city and one of nine states is Vienna. Austria has an area of 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi), a population of nearly 9 million people and a nominal GDP of $477 billion. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The terrain is highly mountainous, lying within the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 m (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects as their native language, and German in its standard form is the country's official language. Other regional languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.

This article gives an overview of liberalism in Austria. It is limited to liberal parties with substantial support, mainly proved by having had representation in parliament. For inclusion in this scheme it isn't necessary that parties labeled themselves as a liberal party.

Cisleithania The Austrian Empire without the Kingdom of Hungary

Cisleithania was a common yet unofficial denotation of the northern and western part of Austria-Hungary, the Dual Monarchy created in the Compromise of 1867—as distinguished from Transleithania, i.e. the Hungarian Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen east of ("beyond") the Leitha River.



Ernest von Koerber was born in Trento, Tyrol, Austrian Empire, in a German speaking family, the son of a Gendarmerie officer. Koerber attended the elite Theresianum boarding school in Vienna and, having obtained his Matura degree, went on to study law at the University of Vienna. He became extremely involved in Austrian culture and politics. The study of the Rechtsstaat ("legal state") doctrine, or constitutionality and civil rights was popular during Koerber's teen years and Koerber and his constitutionally-minded peers such as Sieghart, Steinbach, Baernreither, and Redlich learned and immersed themselves in this principle.

Trento Comune in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy

Trento is a city on the Adige River in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol in Italy. It is the capital of the autonomous province of Trento. In the 16th century, the city was the location of the Council of Trent. Formerly part of Austria and Austria-Hungary, it was annexed by Italy in 1919. With almost 120,000 inhabitants, Trento is the third largest city in the Alps and second largest in the Tyrol.

County of Tyrol former county of Austria

The (Princely) County of Tyrol was an estate of the Holy Roman Empire established about 1140. Originally a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of the Counts of Tyrol, it was inherited by the Counts of Gorizia in 1253 and finally fell to the Austrian House of Habsburg in 1363. In 1804 the Princely County of Tyrol, unified with the secularised Prince-Bishoprics of Trent and Brixen, became a crown land of the Austrian Empire in 1804 and from 1867 a Cisleithanian crown land of Austria-Hungary.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

Koerber’s knowledge of government was apparent when in 1874 he launched his career in the civil service, entering the Austrian Ministry of Commerce. In 1895 he was appointed general manager of the Imperial Royal Austrian State Railways and obtained the honorific title of a Geheimrat the following year. By 1897 Koerber was a member of the Imperial Council parliament of Cisleithania (i.e. the 'Austrian' portion of Austria-Hungary) and Commerce Minister. At this time, after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, there were separate internal governments for the Austrian lands and the Kingdom of Hungary. Two years later in 1899, Koerber rose to the position of Austrian Minister of the Interior. In 1900, Emperor Franz Joseph asked Koerber to create a cabinet and serve as Prime Minister. This was by far the most influential position of Koerber’s career. Koerber served in this capacity until the end of 1904.

Imperial Royal Austrian State Railways transport company

The Imperial-Royal State Railways was the state railway organisation in the Cisleithanian (Austrian) part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

Geheimrat was the title of the highest advising officials at the Imperial, royal or princely courts of the Holy Roman Empire, who jointly formed the Geheimer Rat reporting to the ruler. The term remained in use during subsequent monarchic reigns in German-speaking areas of Europe until the end of the First World War. At its origin the literal meaning of the word in German was 'trusted advisor'. The English-language equivalent is Privy Councillor.

Imperial Council (Austria) Parliament of the Austrian half of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

The Imperial Council was the legislature of the Austrian Empire from 1861, and from 1867 the legislature of Cisleithania within Austria-Hungary. It was a bicameral body: the upper house was the House of Lords, and the lower house was the House of Deputies. To become law, bills had to be passed by both houses, signed by the government minister responsible, and then granted royal assent by the Emperor. After having been passed, laws were published in the Reichsgesetzblatt. In addition to the Imperial Council, the fifteen individual crown lands of Cisleithania had their own diets.

First Koerber cabinet

From the beginning of his term in office, Minister-President Koerber encountered many difficulties. Within the multinational Dual Monarchy, he had full authority only over the Cisleithania crown lands. Furthermore, the Imperial Council parliament was politically weak. In order to make major liberal reforms Koerber depended largely on Article 14, a provision in the December Constitution which allowed the Emperor to issue an “emergency regulation” for any necessary purposes. The meetings of the Imperial Council quickly transformed into forums for Koerber to bargain with party leaders. [1]

A multinational state is a sovereign state that comprises two or more nations. This is in contrast to a nation state, where a single nation accounts for the bulk of the population. Depending on the definition of "nation", a multinational state might also be multicultural or multilingual.

The December Constitution is a set of six acts that served as the constitution of the Cisleithanian half of Austria-Hungary. The acts were proclaimed by Emperor Franz Joseph on December 21, 1867 and functioned as the supreme law of the land until the collapse of the empire in 1918. Five of the Constitution's acts were replaced by the Federal Constitutional Law between 1918 and 1920; the sixth law, a bill of rights, is still in force.

Minister-President Koerber in office, 1901 ErnestVonKoerber1901.jpg
Minister-President Koerber in office, 1901

Koerber’s tenure in office was also marked by rising national tensions within Austria-Hungary. The Dual Monarchy dissipated any sense of allegiance to a single crown. The various ethnic groups resented one another and it became apparent that most government actions would leave at least one offended group.

In military matters, Koerber opposed providing the Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian Army (the Royal Hungarian Honvéd) with its own artillery units. While the emperor advocated such a policy, Koerber sided with crown prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand against it, stating that the principle of parity would require the Imperial-Royal Landwehr to also have artillery, which Austria could not afford. [2]

Austro-Hungarian Army ground force of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy from 1867 to 1918

The Austro-Hungarian Army was the ground force of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy from 1867 to 1918. It was composed of three parts: the joint army, the Imperial Austrian Landwehr, and the Royal Hungarian Honvéd.

Royal Hungarian Honvéd 1867-1918 Hungarian component of Austria-Hungarys military

The Royal Hungarian Honvéd or Royal Hungarian Landwehr, commonly known as the Honvéd or in Hungarian, Honvédség, was one of the four armed forces of Austria-Hungary from 1867 to 1918. The others were its counterpart the Austrian Landwehr, the Common Army and the Imperial and Royal Navy. The word "honvéd" means and enlisted private without a rank, literally "Defender of the Homeland". "Honvédség" is degree of the noun and refers to the community, institution of these soldiers.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria Austrian archduke and crown prince

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este was a member of the imperial Habsburg dynasty, and from 1896 until his death the heir presumptive (Thronfolger) to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia, which in turn triggered a series of events that resulted in Austria-Hungary's allies and Serbia's declaring war on each other, starting World War I.

Even education was a controversial aspect within the monarchy. The Italians in the Habsburg lands of Tyrol and the Littoral could no longer get a university education within the borders of Austria after it lost Venetia in 1866. Koerber sought to fix this problem and presented a draft law establishing an Italian university. However widespread disapproval from Germans culminated in riots during the aborted inauguration of the first course, to be opened in Innsbruck in November 1904 This forced the government to abandon this project. [3] Koerber also attempted to institute a “National University” with German as the language of teaching but the Italians and Slavs protested this plan.

Austrian Littoral former country

The Austrian Littoral was a crown land (Kronland) of the Austrian Empire, established in 1849. It consisted of three regions: the Istria peninsula, Gorizia and Gradisca, and the Imperial Free City of Trieste. Throughout history, the region has been frequently contested, with parts of it controlled at various times by the Republic of Venice, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Yugoslavia among others.

Innsbruck Place in Tyrol, Austria

Innsbruck is the capital city of Tyrol in western Austria and the fifth-largest city in Austria. It is in the Inn valley, at its junction with the Wipp valley, which provides access to the Brenner Pass some 30 km (18.6 mi) to the south.

Koerber pursued reform for the infrastructure of the country, particularly railways and canals. These expansive reforms known as the Koerber-Plan were made in efforts to appease the Imperial Council and create a sense of regionalism with non-controversial government reforms. Despite Koerber's efforts, these changes did not provide the reaction he expected and attention once again shifted towards the nationality question. [4]

Additionally, Koerber aimed to promote the industrial and communications sectors. He abolished censorship of the press. Koerber believed this would benefit the changing and expansive monarchy. Koerber also exhibited his liberal ideology by reducing the harsh persecution of Social Democrats, allowing them to organize openly in Austria. This was a tremendous stride in individual rights.

Coupled with these strategies was Koerber's economic savvy. Koerber got the Imperial Council to enact his 1902 economic development program without resorting to Article 14. [5] But once again, it was to no avail. Many historians believe that Koerber’s emphasis on economic matters over national issues made his administration highly unpopular. Ethnic hostilities ensued despite his attempts at reform. The lack of transition within the state diminished Koerber's dreams and he eventually resigned from office on 31 December 1904, officially on health grounds. Koerber was succeeded by Paul Gautsch von Frankenthurn, Minister of Education.

Second Koerber cabinet

Koerber returned to the spotlight during World War I. From 7 February 1915 to 28 October 1916, he served as Austro-Hungarian Finance Minister (one of three k.u.k common ministries which served both countries). In the ongoing discussions on the goals of the war, Koerber strictly opposed Foreign Minister Stephan Burián's ideas to annex Russian Congress Poland (Vistula Land), stating that it could further weaken the cohesion and political balance of the Dual Monarchy.

After the Austrian minister-president Count Karl von Stürgkh was assassinated by Friedrich Adler on 21 October 1916, aged Emperor Franz Joseph quickly recalled Koerber to return as his successor. [1] Many had hoped that Koerber would modify the tyrannical system that had developed during wartime. [6] However, after Franz Joseph's death on November 21, Koerber came into conflict with the new emperor, Charles I, and did not make such changes. In fact, the constant disputes made it difficult for Koerber to get anything accomplished. Koerber still held out hope that Austria and Hungary were able to unite, both politically and socially. Charles I, however, continued to take measures that would hinder this progress. Koerber, an aged man by this point, decided he could no longer take these differences.

A few weeks later, on December 13, Koerber officially retired from office and was succeeded by Heinrich Clam-Martinic. He died shortly after the end of the war, on 5 March 1919, in Baden, a spa town near Vienna.

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  1. 1 2 Taylor , A. J. P. The Habsburg Monarchy. Hamish Hamilton, London 1966
  2. Rothenburg, G. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1976. p 133.
  3. Held, Joseph; Winters, Stanley B., Intellectual and Social Developments in the Habsburg Empire. From Maria Theresa to World War I. Columbia University Press, NYC 1975
  4. Cornwall, Mark. The Last Years of Austria-Hungary; a Multi-National Experiment in Early Twentieth-Century Europe. University of Exeter Press 2002. p. 42
  5. Okey, Robin. The Habsburg Monarchy. Palgrave Macmillan 2001, p. 348.
  6. Kann, Robert. A History of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918. University of California Press, London 1974

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