Archduke Felix of Austria was only three years old when the Austro-Hungarian empire ended, and his family was sent into exile. Not long afterward, the new Austrian republic passed a law that denied members of the former Imperial family from returning to Austria. As the New York Times reported in 1996, the "exile law was aimed at forestalling any attempt to restore the monarchy as the republic consolidated its powers." In 1935, the law was rescinded. Empress Zita arranged for Archduke Felix to attend a military academy in Austria, as many believed the monarchy would be restored.
But after the Anschluss, the law was reinstated. The Soviets insisted that the law be retained in the new Austrian State treaty in 1955, when the Allied nations ended their occupation of Austria, and the country regained its independence.
In 1989, Archduke Felix briefly entered Austria to attend his mother's funeral. Austrian officials took no action as Felix left the country the same evening.
In 1996, the archduke tried to challenge the law by sneaking into the country and appearing at a press conference in Vienna. He held an Austrian passport, issued by the Austrian embassy in Mexico City, but the passport included the statement "entrance and transit in Austria not permitted."
Austrian officials decided to take no action against the then 79-year-old Archduke. One Foreign Ministry official said that the archduke "will not settle the stability of our republic."
Two months earlier, Felix had asked the Austrian chancellor's office and the federal police to issue "a normal passport so that he could take part in the board meetings of two Austrian companies he had joined as a marketing consultant."
The Foreign Ministry acknowledged that it normally took one week to process a passport to an "ordinary citizen," but in Archduke Felix's case (in Austria, he was styled as Herr Habsburg), the case remained under review.
At this time, Felix said he was no longer challenging the 1919 law of banishment. His lawyers said that the law that been superseded when Austria joined the European Union in 1995. The European Union "guarantees movement of European citizens." But the Austrian government countered by saying that the European Commission had reviewed Austria's laws, and made "objection to the Habsburg law."
Austrian officials told the archduke that the easiest way to enter the country would be to "formally renounce his claim to the throne. Two of his older brothers, including Archduke Otto, the head of the family, officially renounced their claims to the throne in order to be allowed to return to Austria.