The Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) recently obtained the right to administer domestic cases. The new law has received a warm welcome in Austria and is another sign of the quality of the VIAC's work and the confidence in its services. The VIAC has already established a working group to implement the proposed changes into the Rules of Arbitration and Conciliation in order to reflect this positive development.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether an arbitral award rendered in connection with licensing for the Austrian First Division Football League had to be set aside because of an alleged infringement of public policy. The decision is particularly interesting because the court had to tackle the sensitive issue of a possible infringement of substantive Austrian public policy in a situation where a party was forced to enter into an arbitration agreement with a dominant counterparty.
The Supreme Court recently considered if and under what circumstances defective reasoning of an arbitral award may lead to its annulment under the Arbitration Law. In a deviation from previous case law and views expressed by the majority of Austrian legal scholars, the court held that the requirement of sound reasoning is a fundamental principle of the Austrian legal system, and thus that an arbitrator's failure to comply with this constitutes a violation of procedural public policy.
In a recent decision the Supreme Court considered whether a lunch attended by a sole arbitrator and a party's counsel could give rise to doubts regarding the arbitrator's impartiality and independence. This decision serves as a reminder that arbitrators should disclose all circumstances that could give rise to a challenge and proceed with the utmost care when a challenge has been dismissed.
The Supreme Court recently considered several formal objections under the New York Convention, as well as several alleged grounds for refusal. The court adopted a rather strict approach with regard to the authentication requirement under the convention, while reiterating that the convention should generally be interpreted in favour of the recognition and enforcement of foreign awards.
The Supreme Court recently rendered its first judgment on the admissibility of the use of electronic mailboxes, which are exclusively incorporated and only accessible via the e-banking system of a credit institution for serving client account notices and statements to consumers. This ruling will significantly affect Austrian banking practice.
Following the Fourth Anti-money Laundering (AML) Directive coming into force, Austria transposed the directive into law through two major legislative acts. This update provides an overview of the effects and obligations arising from the implementation of the Fourth AML Directive – in particular, the due diligence that banks will have to undertake on prospective clients.
Following a period of legal uncertainty and controversy, the Supreme Court has provided answers to the question of whether, against the backdrop of negative reference interest rates, a bank can unilaterally floor an overall floating interest rate at 0.00001%. Although the Supreme Court's decision is disappointing, it held that a decision rendered on an individual basis may come to other conclusions. Thus, this decision is unlikely to be the final word on this issue.
New almost EU-wide rules recently entered into force to support businesses in the recovery of debt from debtors in other EU countries. The regulation established a new procedure for creditors by providing common rules regarding jurisdiction and the procedure and conditions for freezing funds held by debtors in bank accounts located in the European Union. Austria has amended its Enforcement Code in order to provide the necessary framework for the procedures set out in the EU regulation.
Over the decades Austria has remained faithful to its banking secrecy by being a late adopter, if at all, of international standards for exchanging information regarding bank accounts. However, the recent amendments to the legal framework have put an end to this and led to a material softening of banking secrecy in Austria. Among other things, the legislature introduced new laws carefully tailored to remove legal obstacles based on banking secrecy that prevented – or at least impeded – tax collection.
Parliament recently passed a new law on the registration of beneficial owners of Austrian legal entities. After obtaining the necessary approval of the Austrian federal states, the law is expected to enter into force on January 15 2018. In disclosing the relevant information on beneficial owners, the register aims to detect and prevent money laundering, especially with regard to complex corporate structures, holding companies or private foundations and trusts.
The typical way to invest in an Austrian company is by way of a capital increase. However, there are formalities with respect to limited liability companies (LLCs) – the most popular legal form in Austria – that sometimes make investing in LLCs unattractive or burdensome. To eliminate the concerns associated with these transactions, Austrian law provides a suitable, but widely unknown, alternative investment instrument: participation rights.
The Austrian Parliament recently passed an amendment to the law on limited liability companies (LLCs) aimed at simplifying the foundation of a special kind of LLC. The purpose of the changes – and the simplifications associated with them – have been hotly debated.
In a recent decision the Supreme Court held, in line with prior case law, that apparent authority requires the circumstances on which the assumption of authority is based to be induced by the principal, not by the representative. Although this is not new, the verdict has helped to clarify the boundaries of apparent authority. Certain key requirements must be met in order to establish apparent authority and thus allow the counterparty to rely on it.
Most start-ups are founded by first-time founders directly after graduation, with the founding team typically consisting of no more than two members. Because of this, founders are often unequipped to deal with the business challenges that they will face. Founders thus often make mistakes, especially at the start. Having an advisory board with qualified and trusted members can help a start-up to transform its potential into successes and create a foundation for sustainable development.
Following some busy years conducting dawn raids in various industries, the Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) recently published guidelines regarding such searches. Although the guidelines contain no big surprises, as they largely reflect the law and the FCA's earlier practice, there are some interesting points – particularly as some of the Austrian legal regime deviates from European law and practice.
At present, the Austrian merger control regime is based on a system of turnover thresholds. Following German legislation and anticipating possible new legislation by the European Union, the new Cartel Act introduces a consideration threshold for which, at least in Europe, there is no practical experience. Due to vague criteria in the law, it is expected that more transactions than envisioned by the legislature will be caught by the new regime or at least notified by careful parties and lawyers.
Although implementation of the EU Cartel Damages Directive in Austria was somewhat delayed, the Council of Ministers recently approved the bill to amend the Cartel Act and the Competition Act. The law will significantly amend Austrian cartel law, primarily facilitating private enforcement of cartel damages for consumers and enterprises alike. While Austrian law has included some of these elements since 2013, the implementation of the directive goes far beyond those implemented.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether a special concentration had to be assessed in accordance with the EU Merger Regulation or national cartel law. The Supreme Court ultimately submitted this question to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. While an answer to this question is necessary, the interest in quick merger proceedings must also be considered.
After the Supreme Court imposed a record €30 million fine on grocery chain SPAR Österreichische Warenhandels-AG and its subsidiaries, a draft to amend the Cartel Act 2005 was circulated. In addition to implementing EU Directive 2014/104/EC, the draft amends existing limitation periods, reiterates the joint and several liability of cartel members and further promotes Austria's leniency programme regarding the fine procedure.
In 2014 the Austrian Supreme Court submitted a request to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of EU law regarding cross-border mergers. The ECJ recently ruled that in cases of merger by acquisition, all contracts entered into by the transferor company pass to the acquiring company without novation. Thus, the law applicable to the contracts before the merger also applies to the underlying contracts after the merger.