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.
In the run up to the recent snap elections, Parliament passed a bill exempting rent agreements for residential leases from stamp duty. The stamp duty on non-residential leases – in particular, commercial and retail leases – remains unchanged. However, these leases are being re-evaluated due to recent case law from the tax authorities.
Parliament recently transposed parts of EU Directive 2015/2436 into national law. Most important is the introduction of certification marks, which did not previously exist under Austrian law. Other provisions of the bill concern the division of trademark applications, the shortening of the validity period of a registration and the reduction of the registration fee.
The Supreme Court recently upheld the appellate court's opinion that Section 17(1) of the Act on Medicinal Products requires the labelling of certain particulars in the case of eventual outer packaging, but does not require the outer packaging of medicinal products. This interpretation conforms with Article 54 of EU Directive 2001/83/EC, which provides that certain particulars must appear on the outer packaging of medicinal products or, where there is no outer packaging, on the immediate packaging.
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.
As of May 1 2018 smoking in restaurants and bars will be prohibited. The restrictions on smoking in the workplace will also be tightened as of this date. However, the new provisions still afford some leeway to employers in that they can organise smoking breakrooms. As a consequence, the workplace may be more smoker friendly than pubs – who would have imagined that.
Public pharmacies are heavily regulated in Austria. The opening of new (or the relocation of existing) pharmacies is subject to approval by the district authority. Approval will be granted only if there exists a viable need for the new public pharmacy. In a recent case, two courts ignored a 2016 amendment to Section 10 of the Pharmacies Act, which allowed a deviation from the strict 5,500 person limit set out therein.
The first update and review of Austria's national water management planning instrument has revealed that the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive will be achieved neither to their full extent nor in a timely manner. Nonetheless, the National Water Management Plan 2015 is a useful and comprehensive document that contains extensive information for all stakeholders and sets out the next steps to achieve the ultimate goal of restoring Austria's water bodies.
In some cases of insolvency, it may be necessary to take special measures which affect the debtor or third parties in order to prevent the insolvent assets from diminishing. These cases are governed by Section 78 of the Insolvency Code, which offers the possibility of ordering individual protective measures with regard to the debtor and third parties. In particular, recent case law has extended the scope of application of these protective measures.
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.
E-Control recently published a draft of the amendment of the Gas Market Model Ordinance 2017. The envisaged amendment – and especially the newly implemented capacity conversion service – resolves the capacity mismatch issue by compensating network users for the economic disadvantages that arise from having to buy double capacity due to the bundling regime at interconnection points.
In 2015 Austria introduced an act which allows individuals, under certain conditions, to challenge laws before the Constitutional Court as unconstitutional. This gave hope to many landlords, which saw this as a tool to challenge the existing rent control regulations. The Constitutional Court recently handed down two new decisions on the same matter with surprising results.
New legislation recently came into effect that aims to ease the process of reintegration into the workplace for employees who have been on extended sick leave and who would benefit from a reduced workload in order to aid rehabilitation and reconnect with the workplace. Although it is a well-meant initiative to curb the increase in long-term sickness, the legal framework reveals some major flaws.
After four months of negotiations, the Austrian National Council has finally reached an agreement on the amendment of the Green Electricity Act. The required two-thirds majority was reached by a last-minute agreement between the coalition parties and the Green Party. The aim of the new legislation is to increase the percentage of green electricity and expand renewable energy in Austria.
After 14 months of negotiations between the Federation of Austrian Social Security Institutions and the pharmaceutical industry, and lengthy discussions within the government coalition, Parliament recently adopted a new price cap for expensive medicinal products and a new price regime for generics and biosimilars. The government, social security institutions and the legislature hope that these amendments will create further savings in relation to expenses for medicinal products.
Under Article XLII of the Code of Civil Procedure, any party that has a substantive claim for information against another party (which it is suing for performance) has a claim for the disclosure of accounts to mitigate serious problems with quantifying the substantive claim if the accounts could help the claimant and if the respondent can be reasonably expected to provide them.
The Constitutional Court recently reached a landmark decision and overturned the Federal Administrative Court decision which had rejected the permit for a third runway at Vienna International Airport on the grounds of climate protection and land use. This decision is significant in that it has far-reaching consequences for many other projects beyond the scope of the third runway. It is also relevant to Austria as a business hub.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the producer of a photograph who marks his or her name in the photograph's metadata must be credited as the producer on copies of the photograph made by other persons and intended for distribution. This judgment is good news for producers of digital photographs who wish to safeguard their copyright. Persons reproducing and distributing digital photographs should routinely check the metadata to ensure that the producer's name is listed on any reproduction.
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.
Following an Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators decision which foresees a split of the Austrian-German electricity market, the Austrian National Regulatory Authority, E-Control and the Austrian transmission system operators have announced that they plan to exhaust all legal possibilities in order to appeal the decision.