The new Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) Rules of Arbitration and Mediation recently entered into force. They apply to all arbitration and mediation proceedings initiated after December 31 2017. The amendments to the VIAC rules allow for parties to conduct efficient and cost-effective arbitration and mediation proceedings, while offering enough flexibility when applying them in individual cases.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether proceedings (wrongly) commenced before an Austrian district court to set aside an arbitral award could nevertheless be continued. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court's exclusive jurisdiction regarding the setting aside of arbitral awards, the unusual facts of the case at hand led to the creation of an additional channel of appeals not provided for in the law.
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.
The Supreme Court recently confirmed the admissibility and validity of qualified subordination agreements included in general terms and conditions and with respect to consumer transactions. Further, the Supreme Court held that qualified subordination agreements – in particular, those relating to loan agreements – create a specific type of contract. This decision has a significant impact on standard bank loan transactions, especially in restructuring situations.
The Supreme Court recently clarified its position on sureties payable on first demand and confirmed its view on the interpretation of contractual undertakings by which one party assumes a personal liability for a third-party debt. Considering the significant different legal consequences for a beneficiary's position following a qualification as either an abstract guarantee or an accessory surety, the guidelines provided by the court are of the utmost importance.
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.
The Higher Administrative Court recently requested that the Constitutional Court repeal Section 39(2) of the Trade Act, as it infringes fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Austrian legal practitioners are already eagerly awaiting this judgment, which is expected to be issued during 2018.
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.
In 2017 an additional merger threshold was implemented to catch cases that fall below existing turnover thresholds but where the consideration for the transaction exceeds a specified amount and the target is active in the relevant country to a significant extent. While the first cases and legal discussions have shown that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the application of this legislation, new draft guidelines have been published on the application of the new, quite difficult piece of legislation.
To date, the law contains no definition of 'implementation' in relation to mergers. There has been much debate in doctrine regarding whether implementation should be defined broadly as the mere possibility of influencing the target's behaviour, or more narrowly as the actual exercise of such influence. The Cartel Court's case law has followed the narrower definition. However, a recent Supreme Court decision has clarified the matter and reached a different conclusion.
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.
Companies regularly store information about their customers, clients, employees, investors, partners and vendors. Privacy and data security are therefore important aspects of most M&A transactions. Although the risk of non-compliance with privacy laws may result in severe negative consequences, many M&A agreements still lack adequate privacy-related representations and warranties.
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.