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Austria

Executive Summary

Austria has a well-developed market economy that welcomes foreign direct investment, particularly in technology and R&D.  The country benefits from a skilled labor force, and a high standard of living, with its capital Vienna consistently placing at the top of global quality-of-life rankings.  

With more than 50 percent of its GDP attributed to exports, Austria’s economy is closely tied to other EU economies, especially Germany’s, its largest trading partner, followed by the U.S.  The economy features a large service sector and an advanced industrial sector specialized in high-quality component parts, especially for vehicles. The agricultural sector is small but highly developed.

Austria’s economy grew from 2017-18.  GDP increased by 2.7 percent in 2018, leading to a decrease in the unemployment rate to 4.8 percent. However, positive momentum has slowed since then, with GDP growth forecast to reach only 1.7 percent in 2019 and 1.6 percent in 2020.

The country’s location between Western European industrialized nations and growth markets in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe (CESEE) has led to a high degree of economic, social, and political integration with fellow European Union (EU) member states and the CESEE.

Some 300 U.S. companies have investments in Austria, and many have expanded their original investment over time.  U.S. Foreign Direct Investment into Austria totaled approximately EUR 14.5 billion (USD 16.5 billion) in 2018, according to the Austrian National Bank, and U.S. companies support over 20,000 jobs in Austria.  Altogether, Austria offers a stable and attractive climate for foreign investors.

The most positive aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:

  • Relatively high political stability;
  • Harmonious labor-management relations and low incidence of labor unrest;
  • Highly skilled labor across sectors;
  • High levels of productivity and international competitiveness;
  • Excellent quality of life through high levels of personal security and high-quality health, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure.

Negative aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:

  • A high overall tax burden;
  • A large public sector and a complex regulatory system with extensive bureaucracy;
  • Low-to-moderate innovation dynamics.

Key sectors that have historically attracted significant investment in Austria:

  • Automotive;
  • Pharmaceuticals;
  • Financial.

Key issue to watch:

  • Austria’s government has announced a comprehensive tax-reform plan for the coming years. This plan includes lowering the corporate tax rate from 25 percent to around 20 percent in 2022, reducing personal income tax in 2021, and increasing the permissible amount of hours worked per week from 50 to 60.  The government is hoping to increase Austria’s attractiveness as a business location by reducing bureaucracy, reducing labor market protections and lowering non-wage labor costs.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 14 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 26 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2018 21 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2017 $7,800 http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $45,440 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Austrian government welcomes foreign direct investment, particularly when such investments have the potential to create new jobs, support advanced technology fields, promote capital-intensive industries, and enhance links to research and development.

There are no specific legal, practical or market access restrictions on foreign investment.  American investors have not complained of discriminatory laws against foreign investors. Corporate taxes are relatively low (25 percent flat tax), and the government plans to reduce them further in a tax reform to be implemented by 2022. U.S. citizens and investors have reported that it is difficult to establish and maintain banking services since the U.S.-Austria Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Agreement went into force in 2014, as some Austrian banks have been reluctant to take on this reporting burden.

Potential investors should also factor in Austria’s lengthy environmental impact assessments in their investment decision-making.  The requirement that over 50 percent of energy providers must be publicly-owned creates a potential additional burden for investments in the energy sector.  Strict liability and co-existence regulations in the agriculture sector restrict research and virtually outlaw the cultivation, marketing, or distribution of biotechnology crops.

Austria’s national investment promotion company, the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), is the first point of contact for foreign companies aiming to establish their own business in Austria.  It provides comprehensive information about Austria as a business location, identifies suitable sites for greenfield investments, and consults in setting up a company. ABA provides its services free of charge.

Austrian agencies do not press investors to keep investments in the country, but the Federal Economic Chamber (WKO), and the American Chamber of Commerce in Austria (Amcham) carry out annual polls among their members to measure their satisfaction with the business climate, thus providing early warning to the government of problems investors have identified.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There is no principal limitation on establishing and owning a business in Austria. A local managing director must be appointed to any newly-started enterprise.  For non-EU citizens to establish and own a business, the Austrian Foreigner’s Law mandates a residence permit that includes the right to run a business. Many Austrian trades are regulated, and the right to run a business in many trades sectors is only granted when certain preconditions are met, such as certificates of competence, and recognition of foreign education.  There are no limitations on ownership of private businesses. Austria maintains an investment screening process for takeovers of 25 percent or more in the sectors of national security and public services such as energy and water supply, telecommunications, and education services, where the Austrian government retains the right of approval. The screening process has been rarely used since its introduction in 2012, but could pose a de facto barrier, particularly in the energy sector. In April 2019, the EU Regulation on establishing a framework for the screening of foreign direct investments into the Union entered into force.  It creates a cooperation mechanism through which EU countries and the EU Commission will exchange information and raise concerns related to specific investments which could potentially threaten the security of EU countries.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Not applicable.

Business Facilitation

While the World Bank ranks Austria as the 26th best country in 2019 with regard to “ease of doing business” (www.doingbusiness.org), starting a business takes time and requires many procedural steps (Austria ranked 118 in this category in 2019).

In order to register a new company, or open a subsidiary in Austria, a company must first be listed on the Austrian Companies’ Register at a local court.  The next step is to seek confirmation of registration from the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) establishing that the company is really a new business.  The investor must then notarize the “declaration of establishment,” deposit a minimum capital requirement with an Austrian bank, register with the tax office, register with the district trade authority, register employees for social security, and register with the municipality where the business will be located.  Finally, membership in the WKO is mandatory for all businesses in Austria.

For companies with sole proprietorship, it is possible under certain conditions to use an online registration process via government websites in German to either found or register a company: https://www.usp.gv.at/Portal.Node/usp/public/content/gruendung/egruendung/269403.html  or www.gisa.gv.at/online-gewerbeanmeldung . It is advisable to seek information from ABA or the WKO before applying to register a firm.

The website of the ABA contains further details and contact information, and is intended to serve as a first point of contact for foreign investors in Austria: https://investinaustria.at/en/starting-business/ .

According to the World Bank, the average time to set up a company in Austria is 21 days, well above the EU average of 12.5 days.

Outward Investment

The Austrian government encourages outward investment.  There is no special focus on specific countries, but the United States is seen as an attractive target country given the U.S. position as the second biggest market for Austrian exports.  Advantage Austria, the “Austrian Foreign Trade Service” is a special section of the WKO that promotes Austrian exports and also supports Austrian companies establishing an overseas presence. Advantage Austria operates six offices in the United States in Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  The Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the WKO run a joint program called “Go International,” providing services to Austrian companies that are considering investing for the first time in foreign countries. The program provides grants in form of contributions to “market access costs,” and also provides “soft subsidies,” such as counselling, legal advice, and marketing support.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

There is no current investment agreement between the United States and Austria.  Austria has Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in force with: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Oman, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.  BITs with Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe have been signed, but have not yet entered into force.

On March 16, 2018, the European Court of Justice determined that arbitration clauses in Member State BITs are incompatible with EU law; subsequently, Austria agreed with the EU Commission to terminate its 12 bilateral intra-EU BITS (as did the other Member States), but negotiations on the date of termination are ongoing.

Austria and the United States are parties to a bilateral double taxation convention covering income and corporate taxes, which went into effect in January 1998.  Another bilateral double taxation convention (covering estates, inheritances, gifts and generation-skipping transfers) has been in effect since 1982 (amended in 1999).  Austria and the United States signed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) Agreement on April 29, 2014, covering U.S. citizen account holders in Austria. The FATCA Agreement went into force December 9, 2014.

Austria has 90 additional double taxation treaties in force with other countries.

Two other Austrian agreements, with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, on cooperation in the areas of taxation and financial markets (which entered into force in January and April 2013 respectively) cover the treatment of anonymous accounts from Austrian citizens in those countries.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Austrian legal system protects secured-interests in property.  For any real estate agreement to be effective, owners must register with the land registry.  Mortgages and liens must also be registered. As a rule, property for sale must be unencumbered.  In case of rededication of land, approval of the land transfer commission or the office of the state governor is required.  The land registry is a reliable system for recording interests in property, and access to the registry is public.

Non-EU/EEA citizens need authorization from administrative authorities of the respective Austrian province to acquire land.  Provincial regulations vary, but in general there must be a public (economic, social, cultural) interest for the acquisition to be authorized.  Often, the applicant must guarantee that he does not want to build a vacation home on the land in order to receive the required authorization.

Intellectual Property Rights

Austria has a strong legal structure to protect intellectual property rights, including patent and trademark laws, a law protecting industrial designs and models, and a copyright law.  Austria is a party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and several international property conventions. Austria also participates in the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) program with the USPTO (started in 2014), which allows filing of streamlined applications for inventions determined to be patentable in other participating countries.

Austria’s Copyright Act conforms to EU directives on intellectual property rights. It grants authors exclusive rights to publish, distribute, copy, adapt, translate, and broadcast their work.  The law also regulates copyrights of digital media (restrictions on private copies), works on the Internet, protection of computer programs, and related damage compensation. Infringement proceedings, however, can be time-consuming and costly.   Between 2015 and 2017, the Austrian High Court confirmed that Austrian Internet providers must prevent access to illegal music and streaming platforms once they are made aware of a copyright violation. They must also block workaround websites from these platforms.

Austria also has a law against trade in counterfeit articles.  In 2018, Austrian customs authorities confiscated pirated goods worth EUR 2.6 million (USD 3.1 million).

Austria is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report, but its trade secrets regime is a concern for some U.S. businesses.  Austrian and U.S. companies have voiced specific concerns about both the scope of protection and the difficulty of adjudicating breaches. Following years of steady U.S. government advocacy, and because Austria was required to implement the 2016 EU Directive on Trade Secrets, the country improved its trade secrets regime in the Law Against Unfair Competition (entered into force in February 2019) to address these concerns.  The most relevant change in the law is a requirement for safeguarding the confidentiality of trade secrets (and other business confidential information) in court procedures. Under the old law, the opposing party could learn confidential trade secrets during court hearings, so companies often avoided taking legal action against offenders.  The new law requires a party to only “credibly demonstrate that the violation of a trade secret exists,” without having to disclose it to other parties during the court proceedings. The court is required to ensure full confidentiality of the proceedings.  The new law also defines injunctive relief and claims for damages in case of breach of trade secrets.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Austria has sophisticated financial markets that allow foreign investors access without restrictions. The government welcomes foreign portfolio investment.  The Austrian National Bank (OeNB) regulates portfolio investments effectively.

Austria has a national stock exchange that currently includes 63 companies on its regulated market and several others on its multilateral trading facility (MTF).  The Austrian Traded Index (ATX) is a price index consisting of the 20 largest stocks on the market, and forms the most important index of Austria’s stock market. The size of the companies listed on the ATX is roughly equivalent to those listed on the MDAX in Germany.  In order to combat declining interest from investment bankers and brokers, the stock exchange introduced two new market segments in 2018: Direct Market, which replaces the Mid-Market segment, and Direct Market Plus. These segments target SMEs and young, developing companies.  The move comes in response to ongoing criticism that the stock exchange does not accurately reflect Austria’s business landscape, which largely consists of small- to medium-sized companies. The market capitalization of Austrian listed companies is small compared to its western European counterparts, accounting for 36 percent of Austria’s GDP, compared to 62 percent in Germany or 166 percent in the United States.

Unlike the other market segments in the stock exchange, Direct Market and Direct Market Plus are only subject to the Vienna Stock Exchange’s general terms of business, but not EU regulations. These segments also have lower reporting requirements but also greater risk for investors, as prices are more likely to fluctuate, due to the respective companies’ low level of market capitalization.

Austria has robust financing for product markets, but the free flow of resources into factor markets (capital, raw materials) could be improved. The Austrian government hopes that the recent opening of the stock exchange to small, innovative companies will help serve that purpose.

Austria is fully compliant with IMF Article VIII, all financial instruments are available, and there are no restrictions on payments.  Credit is available to foreign investors at market-determined rates. Austria’s financial market ranked 28th in the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, out of 140 countries examined, compared to 30th place in 2017 and 47th in 2016.

Money and Banking System

Austria has one of the densest banking networks in Europe with almost 4,200 branch offices registered in 2018.  The banking system is highly developed, with worldwide correspondent banks and representative offices and branches in the United States and other major financial centers.  Large Austrian banks also have extensive networks in Central and Southeast European (CESEE) countries and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Total assets of the banking sector amounted to EUR 986 billion (USD 1.2 trillion) in 2018 approximately three times the country’s GDP.  The Austrian banking sector is considered to be one of the most stable in the world. In 2018, Standard & Poor’s raised Austria’s industry country risk assessment from 3 to 2, making the domestic banking system one of the 13 most stable systems worldwide (no country has a rating of 1).  Moody’s also improved its outlook for the Austrian banking system in 2018, improving its outlook from positive to stable.

Austria’s banking sector is managed and overseen by the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) and the Financial Market Authority (FMA).  Five Austrian banks with assets in excess of EUR 30 billion (USD 34 billion) are subject to the Eurozone’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), as is Sberbank Europe AG, a Russian bank subsidiary headquartered in Austria, due to its significant cross-border assets.  All other Austrian banks continue to be subject to the country’s dual-oversight bank supervision system with roles for the OeNB and the FMA, both of which are also responsible for policing irregularities on the stock exchange and for supervising insurance companies, securities markets, and pension funds.

Due to U.S. government financial reporting requirements, Austrian banks are very cautious in accepting U.S. clients, whose access to banking services here is consequently restricted. Locally incorporated businesses belonging to U.S. investors have also reported problems in finding banking services.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Austria has no restrictions on cross-border capital transactions, including the repatriation of profits and proceeds from the sale of an investment, for non-residents and residents.  The Euro, a freely convertible currency and the only legal tender in Austria and 18 other Euro-zone member states, shields investors from exchange rate risks within the Euro-zone.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Austria has no sovereign wealth funds.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Austrian Responsible Business Conduct (RBC)/Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) standards are laid out in the Austrian Corporate Governance Codex, which is based on the EU Commission’s 2011 “Strategy for Corporate Social Responsibility.”  The Austrian Standards Institute’s ONR 192500 acts as the main guidance for CSR and is based on the EU Commission’s published Strategy, which is also compliant with UN guidelines. Major Austrian companies follow generally accepted CSR principles and publish a CSR chapter in their annual reports; many also provide information on their health, safety, security, and environmental activities.

Austria adheres to the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.  The Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs, Health, and Consumer Protection is represented in national and international CSR-relevant associations and supports CSR initiatives while working closely together with the Austrian Standards Institute.

The Austrian export credit agency promotes information on CSR issues, principles and standards, including the OECD Guidelines, on its website.

https://www.oekb.at/en/oekb-group/our-claim/corporate-governance.html 

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; World Bank; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Austria Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2018 $455,586 2017 $416,596 https://data.worldbank.org/country/austria?view=chart  
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or international Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Austria ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $16,493 2017 $7,819 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $12,646 2017 $12,303 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data  
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 51.5% 2017 48.5% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx  

*Statistics Austria (GDP):
http://www.statistik.at/web_de/statistiken/wirtschaft/volkswirtschaftliche_
gesamtrechnungen/bruttoinlandsprodukt_und_hauptaggregate/jahresdaten/019505.html
 

Austrian National Bank (Investments)

https://www.oenb.at/isaweb/report.do?lang=EN&report=9.3.31 

Differences between Austrian and U.S. statistics can arise from different allocations of investments to countries (headquarters versus subsidiaries) and different survey methods


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $246,359 100% Total Outward $291,090 100%
Germany $55,214 22% Netherlands $35,917 12%
Russia $30.333 12% Germany $31,453 11%
Netherlands $27.933 11% Luxembourg $15,302 5%
Luxembourg $22.006 9% Czech Republic $14,881 5%
Switzerland $11.805 5% United States $11,178 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Austria’s domestic investment figures show significant lower numbers for the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) may be used to avoid corporate taxes.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity and Investment Fund Shares Total Debt Securities
All Countries $348,992 100% All Countries $138,369 100% All Countries $210,623 100%
Germany $54,228 15% Luxembourg $46,238 33% Germany $26,126 12%
Luxembourg $53,862 15% Germany $28,103 20% France $23,711 11%
United States $33,122 9% United States $14,434 10% United States $18,689 9%
France $31.227 9% Ireland $13,864 10% Spain $15,180 7%
Ireland $19,476 6% France $7,516 5% Netherlands $15,119 7%
Investment Climate Statements
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