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7: Internal Reforms

<< 6: The Eastern Question || 8: The Crisis of 1903 >>

THE disturbed state of European politics and the great increase in the military establishments of other countries made it desirable for Austria also to strengthen her military resources. The bad condition of the finances rendered it, however, impossible to carry out any very great measures. In 1868 there had been introduced compulsory military service in both Austria and Hungary; the total of the army available in war had been fixed at 800,000 men. Besides this joint army placed under the joint ministry of war, there was in each part of the monarchy a separate militia and a separate minister for national defence. In Hungary this national force or honvéd was kept quite distinct from the ordinary army; in Austria, however (except in Dalmatia and Tirol, where there was a separate local militia), the Landwehr, as it was called, was practically organized as part of the standing army. At the renewal of the periodical financial and economic settlement (Ausgleich) in 1877 no important change was made, but in 1882 the system of compulsory service was extended to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a reorganization was carried out, including the introduction of army corps and local organization on the Prussian plan. This was useful for the purposes of speedy mobilization, though there was some danger that the local and national spirit might penetrate into the army. In 1886 a law was carried in either parliament creating a Landsturm, and providing for the arming and organization of the whole male population up to the age of forty-two in case of emergency, and in 1889 a small increase was made in the annual number of recruits. A further increase was made in 1892-1893. In contrast, however, with the military history of other continental powers, that of Austria-Hungary shows a small increase in the army establishment. Of recent years there have been signs of an attempt to tamper with the use of German as the common language for the whole army. This, which is now the principal remnant of the old ascendancy of German, and the one point of unity for the whole monarchy, is a matter on which the government and the monarch allow no concession, but in the Hungarian parliaments protests against it have been raised, and in 1899 and 1900 it was necessary to punish recruits from Bohemia, who answered the roll call in the Czechish zde instead of the German hier.

In those matters which belong to the periodical and terminable agreement, the most important is the Customs Union, which was established in 1867, and it is convenient to treat separately the commercial policy of the dual state. At first the customs tariff in Austria-Hungary, as in most other countries, was based on a number of Commercial treaties with Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, &c., each of which specified the maximum duties that could be levied on certain articles, and all of which contained a "most favoured nation" clause. The practical result was a system very nearly approaching to the absence of any customs duties, and for the period for which these treaties lasted a revision of the tariff could not be carried out by means of legislation. After the year 1873, a strong movement in favour of protective duties made itself felt among the Austrian manufacturers who were affected by the competition of German, English and Belgian goods, and Austria was influenced by the general movement in economic thought which about this time caused the reaction against the doctrines of free trade. Hungary, on the other hand, was still in favour of free trade, for there were no important manufacturing industries in that country, and it required a secure market for agricultural produce. After 1875 the commercial treaties expired; Hungary thereupon also gave notice to terminate the commercial union with Austria, and negotiations began as to the principle on which it was to be renewed. This was done during the year 1877, and in the new treaty, while raw material was still imported free of duty, a low duty was placed on textile goods as well as on corn, and the excise on sugar and brandy was raised. All duties, moreover, were to be paid in gold - this at once involving a considerable increase. The tariff treaties with Great Britain and France were not renewed, and all attempts to come to some agreement with Germany broke down, owing to the change of policy which Bismarck was adopting at this period. The result was that the system of commercial treaties ceased, and Austria-Hungary was free to introduce a fresh tariff depending simply on legislation, an "autonomous tariff" as it is called. With Great Britain, France and Germany there was now only a "most favoured nation" agreement; fresh commercial treaties were made with Italy (1879), Switzerland and Servia (1881). During 1881-1882 Hungary, desiring means of retaliation against the duties on corn and the impediments to the importation of cattle recently introduced into Germany, withdrew her opposition to protective duties the tariff was completely revised, protective duties were introduced on all articles of home production, and high finance duties on other articles such as coffee and petroleum. At the same time special Privileges were granted to articles imported by sea, so as to foster the trade of Trieste and Fiume; as in Germany a subvention was granted to the great shipping companies, the Austrian Lloyd and Adria the area of the Customs Union was enlarged so as to include Trieste Istria and Dalmatia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1887 a further increase of duties was laid on corn (this was at the desire of Hungary as against Rumania, for a vigorous customs war was being carried on at this time) and on woollen and textile goods. Austria therefore, during these years completely gave up the principle of free trade, and adopted a nationalist policy similar to that which prevailed m Germany. A peculiar feature of these treaties was that the government was empowered to impose an additional duty (Retorsionszoll) on goods imported from countries in which Austria-Hungary received unfavorable treatment. In 1881 this was fixed at 10 % (5 % for some articles), but in 1887 it was raised to 30 and 15 % respectively. In 1892 Austria-Hungary joined with Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland in commercial treaties to last for twelve years, the object being to secure to the states of central Europe a stable and extended market for the introduction of high tariffs in Russia and America had crippled industry. Two years later Austria-Hungary also arranged with Russia a treaty similar to that already made between Russia and Germany; the reductions in the tariff secured in these treaties were applicable also to Great Britain, with which there still was a most favoured nation treaty. The system thus introduced gave commercial security till the year 1903.

The result of these and other laws was an improvement in financial conditions, which enabled the government at last to take in hand the long-delayed task of reforming the currency. Hitherto the currency had been partly in silver (gulden), the "Austrian currency" which had been introduced in 1857, partly in paper money, which took the form of notes issued by the Austro-Hungarian Bank. This institution had, in 1867, belonged entirely to Austria; it had branches in Hungary, and its notes were current throughout the monarchy, but the direction was entirely Austrian. The Hungarians had not sufficient credit to establish a national bank of their own, and at the settlement of 1877 they procured, as a concession to themselves, that it should be converted into an Austro-Hungarian bank, with a head office at Pest as well as at Vienna, and with the management divided between the two countries. This arrangement was renewed in 1887. In 1848 the government had been obliged to authorize the bank to suspend cash payments, and the wars of 1859 and 1866 had rendered abortive all attempts to renew them. The notes, therefore, formed an inconvertible paper currency. The bank by its charter had the sole right of issuing notes, but during the war of 1866 the government in order to raise money, had itself issued notes (Staatsnoten) to the value of 312 million gulden, thereby violating the charter of the bank. The operation begun in 1892 was therefore threefold: (1) the substitution of a gold for a silver standard (2) the redemption of the Staatsnoten; (3) the resumption of cash payments by the bank.

In 1867 Austria-Hungary had taken part in the monetary conference which led to the formation of the Latin Union, it was intended to join the Union, but this was not done. A first step, however, had been taken in this direction by the issue of gold coins of the value of eight and four gulden. No attempt was made, however, to regulate the relations of these coins to the "Austrian" silver coinage the two issues were not brought into connexion, and every payment was made in silver unless it was definitely agreed that it should be paid in gold. In 1879, owing to the continued depreciation of silver, the free coinage of silver was suspended. In 1892 laws introducing a completely new coinage were carried in both parliaments, in accordance with agreements made by the ministers. The unit in the new issue was to be the krone, divided into 100 heller; the krone being almost of the same value (24-25th) as the franc. (The twenty-krone piece in gold weighs 6.775 gr., the twenty-franc piece 6.453.) The gold krone was equal to 0.42 of the gold gulden, and it was declared equal to 0.5 of the silver gulden, so much allowance being made for the depreciation of silver The first step towards putting this act into practice was the issue of one-krone pieces (silver), which circulated as half gulden, and of nickel coins; all the copper coins and other silver coins were recalled, the silver gulden alone being left in circulation. The coinage of the gold four- and eight-gulden was suspended. Nothing more could be done till the supply of gold had been increased. The bank was required to buy gold (during 1892 it bought over forty M. gulden), and was obliged to coin into twenty- or ten-krone pieces all gold brought to it for that purpose. Then a loan of 150 M. gulden at 4 % was made, and from the gold (chiefly bar gold and sovereigns) which Rothschild, who undertook the loan, paid in. coins of the new issue were struck to the value of over 34 million kronen. This was, however, not put into circulation; it was used first for paying off the Staatsnoten. By 1894 the state was able to redeem them to the amount of 200 million gulden, including all those for one gulden. It paid them, however, not in gold, but in silver (one-krone pieces and gulden) and in bank notes, the coins and notes being provided by the bank, and in exchange the newly coined gold was paid to the bank to be kept as a reserve to cover the issue of notes. At the same time arrangements were made between Austria and Hungary to pay off about 80 million of exchequer bills which had been issued on the security of the government salt-works, and were therefore called "salinenscheine." In 1899 the remainder of the Staatsnoten (112 million gulden) were redeemed in a similar manner. The bank had in this way acquired a large reserve of gold, and in the new charter which was (after long delay) passed in 1899, a clause was introduced requiring the resumption of cash payments, though this was not to come into operation immediately. Then from 1st January 1900 the old reckoning by gulden was superseded, that by krone being introduced in all government accounts, the new silver being made a legal tender only for a limited amount. For the time until the 1st of July 1908, however, the old gulden were left in circulation, payments made in them, at the rate of two kronen to one gulden, being legal up to any amount.

This important reform has thereby been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and at a time when the political difficulties had reached a most acute stage. It is indeed remarkable that notwithstanding the complicated machinery of the dual monarchy, and the numerous obstacles which have to be overcome before a reform affecting both countries can be carried out, the financial, the commercial and the foreign policy has been conducted since 1870 with success. The credit of the state has risen, the chronic deficit has disappeared, the currency has been put on a sound basis, and part of the unfunded debt has been paid off. Universal military service has been introduced, and all this has been done in the presence of difficulties greater than existed in any other civilized country.

Each of the financial and economic reforms described above was, of course, the subject of a separate law, but, so far as they are determined at the general settlement which takes place between Austria and Hungary every ten years, they are comprised under the expression "Ausgleich" (compact or compromise), which includes especially the determination of the Quota, and to this extent they are all dealt with together as part of a general settlement and bargain. In this settlement a concession on commercial policy would be set off against a gain on the financial agreement, e.g., in 1877 Austria gave Hungary a share in the management of the bank, while the arrangement for paying the bonus on exported sugar was favourable to Austria; on the other hand, since the increased duty on coffee and petroleum would fall more heavily on Austria, the Austrians wished to persuade the Hungarians to pay a larger quota of the common expenses, and there was also a dispute whether Hungary was partly responsible for a debt of 80 M. gulden to the bank. Each measure had, therefore, to be considered not only on its own merits, but in relation to the general balance of advantage, and an amendment in one might bring about the rejection of all. The whole series of acts had to be carried in two parliaments, each open to the influence of national jealousy and race hatred in its most extreme form, so that the negotiations have been conducted under serious difficulties, and the periodical settlement has always been a time of great anxiety. The first settlement occupied two full years, from 1876, when the negotiations began, to June 1878, when at last all the bills were carried successfully through the two parliaments; and it was necessary to prolong the previous arrangements (which expired at the end of 1877) till the middle of 1878. First the two ministries had to agree on the drafts of all the bills; then the bills had to be laid before the two parliaments. Each parliament elected a committee to consider them, and the two committees carried on long negotiations by notes supplemented by verbal discussions. Then followed the debates in the two parliaments there was a ministerial crisis in Austria, because the House refused to accept the tax on coffee and petroleum which was recommended by the ministers; and finally a great council of all the ministers, with the emperor presiding, determined the compromise that was at last accepted. In 1887 things went better; there was some difficulty about the tariff, especially about the tax on petroleum, but Count Taaffe had a stronger position than the Austrian ministers of 1877. Ten years later, on the third renewal, the difficulties were still greater. They sprang from a double cause. First the Austrians were determined to get a more favourable division of the common expenses; that of 1867 still continued, although Hungary had grown relatively in wealth. ¹ Moreover. a proposed alteration in the taxes on sugar would be of considerable advantage to Hungary; the Austrians, therefore, demanded that henceforth the proportion should be not 68.6 : 31.4 but 58: 42. On this there was a deadlock: all through 1897 and 1898 the Quota-Deputations failed to come to an agreement. This, however, was not the worst. Parliamentary government in Austria had broken down; the opposition had recourse to obstruction, and no business could be done. Their object was to drive out the Badeni government, and for that reason the obstruction was chiefly directed against the renewal of the Ausgleich; for, as this was the first necessity of state, no government could remain in office which failed to carry it through. The extreme parties of the Germans and the anti-Semites were also, for racial reasons, opposed to the whole system. When, therefore, the government at the end of 1897 introduced the necessary measures for prolonging the existing arrangements provisionally till the differences with Hungary had been settled, scenes of great disorder ensued, and at the end of the year the financial arrangements had not been prolonged, and neither the bank charter nor the Customs Union had been renewed. The government, therefore (Badeni having resigned), had to proclaim the necessary measures by imperial warrant. Next year it was even worse, for there was obstruction in Hungary as well as in Austria; the Quota-Deputations again came to no agreement, and the proposals for the renewal of the Bank charter, the reform of the currency, the renewal of the Customs Union, and the new taxes on beer and brandy, which were laid before parliament both at Vienna and Pest, were not carried in either country; this time, therefore, the existing arrangements had to be prolonged provisionally by imperial and royal warrant both in Austria and Hungary. During 1899 parliamentary peace was restored in Hungary by the resignation of Bánffy; in Austria, however, though there was again a change of ministry the only result was that the Czechs imitated the example of the Germans and resorted to obstruction so that still no business could be done. The Austrian ministry, therefore, came to an agreement with the Hungarians that the terms of the new Ausgleich should be finally proclaimed in Austria by imperial warrant, the Hungarians only giving their assent to this in return for considerable financial concessions.

The main points of the agreement were: (1) the Bank charter was to be renewed till 1910, the Hungarians receiving a larger share in the direction than they had hitherto enjoyed; (2) the Customs Union so far as it was based on a reciprocal and binding treaty lapsed, both sides, however, continuing it in practice, and promising to do so until the 31st of December 1907. Not later than 1901 negotiations were to be begun for a renewal of the alliance, and if possible it was to be renewed from the year 1903, in which year the commercial treaties would expire. If this were done, then the tariff would be revised before any fresh commercial treaties were made. If it were not done, then no fresh treaties would be made extending beyond the year 1907, so that if the Commercial Union of Austria and Hungary were not renewed before 1907, each party would be able to determine its own policy unshackled by any previous treaties. These arrangements in Hungary received the sanction of the parliament; but this could not be procured in Austria, and they were, therefore, proclaimed by imperial warrant; first of all, on 20th July, the new duties on beer, brandy and sugar; then on 23rd September the Bank charter, &c. In November the Quota- Deputations at last agreed that Hungary should henceforward pay 33 3/49, a very small increase, and this was also in Austria proclaimed in the same way. The result was that a working agreement was made, by which the Union was preserved.

¹ The only change was that as the military frontier had been given over to Hungary, Hungary in consequence of this addition of territory had to pay 2 %, the remaining 98 % being divided as before, so that the real proportion was 31.4 and 68.6.

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