In the wake of the global economic crises triggered by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) expects an increased number of company takeovers in the coming months; however, the number of mergers in 2020 to date has been lower than in previous years. The AFCA holds that it would not be appropriate to relax merger control for such 'shutdown mergers', as merger control is necessary to protect the Austrian market and the country's long-term economic development.
In March 2020 the legislature enacted the COVID-19 Measures Act, which authorised the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection to enact regulations prohibiting access to business premises to the extent necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Based on this provision, the ministry enacted the COVID-19 Measures Regulation; however, the Constitutional Court recently overruled Sections 1, 2, 4 and 6 of the regulation.
Recent case law suggests that, although medical society and other expert committee guidelines are non-binding, they may serve as evidence to specify current medical standards. However, as they cannot be considered on the same level as medical standards, the application of such guidelines to specific cases requires an expert assessment.
A landmark Supreme Administrative Court decision concerning Onpro Kit, a medicine for treating chemotherapy-induced leucopenia, provides further clarity on the inclusion of medicines in the Main Association of Austrian Social Security Institutions' reimbursement code. The court examined the special circumstances in which a medicine is inappropriate for use in the course of medical treatment because it is designated for use predominantly in hospital treatments.
The cartel prohibition applies to activities between independent undertakings; however, it does not apply to activities between a controlling and a controlled undertaking, as such a subsidiary would not enjoy economic independence. This concept is referred to as 'single economic entity', which such a 'family' of undertakings may enjoy. In a recent case, the Supreme Court reviewed the question of whether such a concept would also apply in relation to a jointly controlled undertaking.
The Ministry of Health recently provided Parliament with a draft amendment to the Health Telematics Act for public consultation. The proposal aims to remedy a number of challenges relating to Austria's existing immunisation system through the introduction of electronic immunisation cards and a central register of vaccinations.
The Austrian professional rules for dentists are strict and restrictive and permit advertising only within tight limits. Recent case law suggests that the Chamber of Dentists is highly active in enforcing both the Directive on Advertising and the Dental Act. Under the directive, print media ads must not exceed quarter of a page and dentists must not use unobjective advertising (eg, ads which promise patients non-dental advantages or services).
Patients who are beyond treatment under the standards of conventional medicine often seek help from alternative medical treatments; however, these methods pose not only medical risks for patients, but also legal risks for doctors. A recent Supreme Administrative Court decision appears to favour a liberal approach to new therapies and compassionate use and enhances the possibilities for developing new therapies and alternative medicines in future.
Amazon has offered to change its terms and conditions following a series of Federal Competition Authority (FCA) investigations regarding business practices on the 'Amazon.de' marketplace. The FCA conducted an extensive market survey in which approximately 400 of the top-selling Austrian marketplace traders on 'Amazon.de' were interviewed in writing and via telephone. The survey results showed that Amazon had market power for a representative selection of larger Austrian marketplace traders.
When a generic is added to the Reimbursement Code, the product manufacturer or authorised distributor must reduce its price in order for the product to remain therein. If the Main Association of Social Security Institutions and the product manufacturer or authorised distributor cannot agree on a price, the product will be removed from the Reimbursement Code. A recent Supreme Court decision provides important considerations for maintaining original medicinal products in the Reimbursement Code.
While there are signs of greater liberalisation with respect to hemp use internationally, the Austrian government has resisted this trend. In October 2018 the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection published a decree outlining its legal opinion on product regulations which prohibit CBD use in food and cosmetics. However, rather than providing legal certainty, the decree merely reflects headlines relating to the government's narcotics programme.
The Austrian social security system has been characterised by regional and occupational fragmentation and the domination of employee representatives. However, a recent amendment to the Social Security Act proposes merging the provincial social security institutions with the company insurers into one Austrian Health Insurer, which will be the only provider of employee health insurance.
A recent Cartel Court decision demonstrates how a long-term relationship between Semperit and a group of Thai companies turned into an equally lengthy disagreement, which came to a decisive turning point in the courts. The final blow landed with a decision by the Federal Cartel Authority, which imposed a fine of €1.6 million on Semperit for violating the Austrian Cartel Act and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The two chambers of the Austrian Parliament recently adopted the government bill on the amendment of the Act on the Medical Profession. The amendment will enter into force following its publication in the Law Gazette, which is expected in late January 2019.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in an interesting case relating to comparative advertising. The court ultimately found that the challenged announcement was 'comparative advertising' within the meaning set out in Section 2a(1) of the Unfair Competition Act, as it directly and indirectly identified a competitor and its goods and services. The decision follows the letter of the law and perfectly summarises the legal structure regarding comparative and drug advertising in Austria.
The Supreme Court recently provided an extensive description of the principles of medical liability and held, in concrete terms, that the standard of care principle must not be overstretched. The court confirmed that the expert liability provided for in the General Civil Code is based on an objective standard and thus depends on the usual diligence of the persons who carry out the activity in question. As such, the performance standard of the occupational group concerned will be a decisive factor.
The Supreme Court recently ruled on the advertising of a product which sits in the grey zone between medicinal products, medical devices and foodstuffs. Among other things, the plaintiffs had originally requested that the defendant be prohibited from offering and distributing products containing zeolite and bentonite as medical devices if they were not authorised as such, including disease-related information in the advertising of those products and promoting the products as "vegan, lactose-free and gluten-free".
The Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) recently published for consultation draft guidelines on the good conduct of entrepreneurs. Generally, neither the practices nor the laws as described by the FCA are new. The major issue is fear: smaller and less aggressive enterprises are afraid to lose business if they stand up to their dominant contractual partners in cases where the loss of a contract could lead to their financial collapse.
The delineation between medical treatment and quackery is not always easy to draw. A recent Supreme Administrative Court decision has brought some clarifications as to what constitutes legitimate medical treatment as opposed to illegal quackery.
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.