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 derived from exports, Austria’s economy is closely tied to other EU economies, especially that of Germany, its largest trading partner. The United States is Austria’s third-largest trading partner. 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.
The COVID-19 crisis deeply affected Austria’s economy, contributing to a forecasted GDP decrease of -7.4% in 2020 and an increase in the unemployment rate from 4.5% to 5.4% at the end of 2020. A prolonged lockdown at the start of 2021 will delay Austria’s economic recovery, with GDP growth forecast at +2.0% in 2021 and +5.1% in 2022.
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 220 U.S. companies have investments in Austria, represented by around 300 subsidiaries, and many have expanded their original investment over time. U.S. Foreign Direct Investment into Austria totaled approximately EUR 12.2 billion (USD 13.7 billion) at the end of 2019, according to the Austrian National Bank, and U.S. companies support over 16,500 jobs in Austria. 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 workforce;
- High levels of productivity and international competitiveness;
- Excellent quality of life for employees and high-quality health, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure.
Negative aspects of Austria’s investment climate include:
- A large public sector and a complex regulatory system with extensive bureaucracy;
- Relatively low levels of private venture capital;
- Low-to-moderate innovation dynamics;
- A relatively high overall tax burden;
Key sectors that have historically attracted significant investment in Austria:
- ICT and Electronics;
Key issues to watch:
After a summer virtually free of COVID-19 restrictions, infection rates spiked in fall 2020 with Austria reporting the highest global rate of infections per 100,000 people in November 2020. The government mandated a full lockdown from early November 2020 to early February 2021. Hotels and restaurants remained largely closed in early 2021, with few exceptions, and the tourism sector, which accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP, was at a standstill. A combination of high reliance on tourism and exports, low consumption levels, and a high number of lockdown days (79 in 2020, compared to 45 in Germany), significantly hindered the economic recovery. Austria’s recovery is likely to be slower than many other EU countries.
The high degree of government assistance kept many firms afloat that may otherwise have filed for bankruptcy. The number of insolvency procedures decreased by 27% in 2020, compared to 2019. Austria may witness a significant spike in bankruptcies once the government scales back assistance measures.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||15 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||27 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||19 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||USD 7.64||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 51,460||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
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 61 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. The market capitalization of Austrian listed companies is small compared to the country’s western European counterparts, accounting for 30% of Austria’s GDP, compared to 54% in Germany or 148% in the United States.
Unlike the other market segments in the stock exchange, the Direct Market and Direct Market Plus segments, targeted at SMEs and young, developing companies, are subject only to the Vienna Stock Exchange’s general terms of business, not more stringent EU regulations. These segments 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 and lower trading volumes.
Austria has robust financing for product markets, but the free flow of resources into factor markets (capital, raw materials) could be improved. Overall, financing is primarily available through banks and government-sponsored funding organizations with relatively little private venture capital available. The Austrian government is aware of this but has taken few tangible steps to improve the availability of private venture capital.
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 system ranked 30th in the 2019 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, out of 141 countries examined, compared to 28th place in 2018 and 30th in 2017.
Money and Banking System
Austria has one of the most fragmented banking networks in Europe, with more than 3,500 branch offices registered in 2020, yet is considered to be one of the most stable in the world. 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 1.02 trillion (USD 1.1 trillion) in 2019 (approximately 2.5 times the country’s GDP). Approximately EUR 400 million of banking sector assets are held by Austria’s two largest banks, Erste Group and Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI). Austria’s banking sector is managed and overseen by the Austrian National Bank (OeNB) and the Financial Market Authority (FMA). Four 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, and Addiko Bank AG due to their significant cross-border assets, as well as Volksbank Wien AG, due to its importance for the economy. All other Austrian banks continue to be subject to the country’s dual-oversight banking supervisory 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. Foreign banks are allowed to establish operations in the country with no legal restrictions that place them at a disadvantage compared to local banks.
Due to U.S. financial reporting requirements, Austrian banks are very cautious in committing the time and expense required to accept U.S. clients and U.S. investors without clearly established U.S. corporate headquarters.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
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.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Austria has no sovereign wealth funds.
Austria is a member of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and also ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. As part of the UNCAC ratification process, Austria has implemented a national anti-corruption strategy. Central elements of the strategy are promoting transparency in public sector decisions and raising awareness of corruption. Corruption generally is not a major issue in Austria, which ranked 15th (out of 180 countries) in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. Despite this ranking, the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) February 2021 report criticized Austria for only fully implementing two of 19 recommendations since the last report was issued in 2017. The criticism largely focused on a lack of transparency on lobbying, receipt of donations, and the income of Members of Parliament. Austria is required to produce a progress report in September 2021.
Bribery of public officials, their family members and political parties, is covered under the Austrian Criminal Code, and corruption does not significantly affect business in Austria. However, the 2017 Ibiza scandal in which then-Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache and right populist Freedom Party FPOe party chairman Johann Gudenus were filmed discussing providing government contracts in exchange for favors and party donations shook the public’s belief in the integrity of the political system. This was compounded by further revelations in 2019 that the FPOe had allegedly promised gambling licenses to Casinos Austria in exchange for placing a party loyalist on the company’s executive board. As of April 2021, prosecutors are also investigating allegations Finance Minister Bluemel (from the governing, center-right People’s Party, OeVP) may have facilitated an exchange of party donations by Casinos Austria subsidiary Novomatic, in exchange for government assistance with the company’s tax problems.
Anti-corruption cases are often characterized by slow-moving trials that drag on for years. The trial of former Finance Minister Grasser, which started in 2017, concluded in late 2020, with Grasser receiving a sentence of eight years in prison from the trial court judge. Grasser is appealing the sentence, with a ruling at the next instance (appellate level) in his case expected during the second half of 2021.
Bribing members of Parliament is considered a criminal offense, and accepting a bribe is a punishable offense with the sentence varying depending on the amount of the bribe. The 2018 Austrian Federal Contracts Act implements EU guidelines prohibiting participating in public procurement contracts if there is a potential conflict of interest and requires measures to be put in place to detect and prevent such conflicts of interest. This required public authorities to set up compliance management systems or amend their existing structures accordingly. Virtually all Austrian companies have internal codes of conduct governing bribery and potential conflicts of interest.
Corruption provisions in Austria’s Criminal Code cover managers of Austrian public enterprises, civil servants, and other officials (with functions in legislation, administration, or justice on behalf of Austria, in a foreign country, or an international organization), representatives of public companies, members of parliament, government members, and mayors. The term “corruption” includes the following in the Austrian interpretation: active and passive bribery; illicit intervention; and abuse of office. Corruption can sometimes include a private manager’s fraud, embezzlement, or breach of trust.
Criminal penalties for corruption include imprisonment ranging from six months to ten years, depending on the severity of the offence. Jurisdiction for corruption investigations rests with the Austrian Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption and covers corruption taking place both within and outside the country. The Lobbying Act of 2013 introduced binding rules of conduct for lobbying. It requires domestic and foreign organizations to register with the Austrian Ministry of Justice. Financing of political parties requires disclosure of donations exceeding EUR 2,500 (USD 2,800). No donor is allowed to give more than EUR 7,500 (USD 8,400) and total donations to one political party may not exceed EUR 750,000 (USD 840,000) in a single year. Foreigners are prohibited from making donations to political parties. Private companies are subject to the Austrian Act on Corporate Criminal Liability, which makes companies liable for active and passive criminal offences. Penalties include fines up to EUR 1.8 million (USD 2.0 million).
To date, U.S. companies have not reported any instances of corruption inhibiting FDI.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contacts at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:
Wirtschafts- und Korruptionsstaatsanwaltschaft (Central Public Prosecution for Business Offenses and Corruption)
1030 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-52 1 52 0
BAK – Bundesamt zur Korruptionsprävention und Korruptionsbekämpfung (Federal Agency for Preventing and Fighting Corruption)
Ministry of the Interior
1010 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-531 26 – 6800
Contact at “watchdog” organization:
Transparency International – Austrian Chapter
1090 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-960 760
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Austria has a well-educated and productive labor force of 4.1 million, of whom 3.6 million are employees and 500,000 are self-employed or farmers. In line with EU regulations, the free movement of labor from all member states is allowed.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to a spike in unemployment, which rose to 5.8% in February 2021, compared to 4.5% in 2019. At the same time, the number of people unemployed for longer than 12 months has increased by 83% over the past year, raising some concern that additional labor market initiatives will be required to reintegrate them in the job market. To combat the effects of lockdown-related business closures, the government implemented a reduced hours work program, enabling employers to reduce employees’ hours by up to 90%, with assistance to cover up to 80-90% of regular pay. The unemployment rate is expected to gradually decrease as the economy re-opens but it may take until the end of 2022 to reach pre-crisis levels.
Foreigners account for almost one-fifth of Austria’s labor force; around 800,000 foreign workers are employed in Austria. Migrant workers come largely from the CEE region, but there are also many workers who arrived during the Syrian refugee crisis who have entered the labor market. Migrants workers often occupy lower-paying jobs and make up a large percentage of workers in the tourism and healthcare sectors.
Youth unemployment is relatively low, compared to European reference countries. Austria’s successful dual-education apprenticeship system, combining on-the-job training with classroom instruction in vocational schools, has helped bring youth into the labor market. The program includes guaranteed placement by the Public Employment Service for those 15–24-year-olds who cannot find an apprenticeship. Austria has a well-balanced labor market but, like many of its neighbors, suffers from a shortage of skilled IT personnel, particularly in the banking and financial sector. Social insurance is compulsory in Austria and is comprised of health insurance, old-age pension insurance, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance. Employers and employees contribute a percentage of total monthly earnings to a compulsory social insurance fund. Austrian laws closely regulate terms of employment, including working hours, minimum vacation time, holidays, maternity leave, statutory separation notice, severance pay, dismissal, and an option for part-time work for parents with children under the age of seven.
Problematic areas include increased deficits in the pension and health insurance systems, the shortage of healthcare personnel to care for the increasing number of elderly, and escalating costs for retirement and long-term care. Due to its generous social welfare system, Austria has a high rate of employer non-wage labor costs, amounting to approximately 30% of gross wages. Labor laws are commonly adhered to and strictly enforced.
Labor-management relations are relatively harmonious in Austria, which traditionally enjoys a low incidence of industrial unrest. Strikes are uncommon with only two notable incidents over the past decade (2011, 2018). Additionally, all employees are automatically members of the Austrian Labor Chamber.
Collective bargaining revolves mainly around wages and fringe benefits. Approximately 90 percent of the labor force works under a collective bargaining agreement. In 2017, Austria implemented a national minimum wage of EUR 1,500 (approx. USD 1,700) per month, with monthly wages paid 14 times per year. This equates to an hourly wage of EUR 10.09 (approx. USD 11.50), placing Austria in the upper tier among European countries with a minimum wage, ahead of France, Germany and the UK.
Austrian law stipulates a 40-hour maximum workweek limit, but collective bargaining agreements also allow for a workweek of 38 or 38.5 hours per week. Firms may increase the maximum regular hours from 40 to 60 per week in special cases, with no more than 12 hours in a single day. Responsibility for agreements on flextime or reduced workweeks is at the company level. Overtime is paid at an additional 50 percent of the employee’s salary and, in some cases, such as work on public holidays, 100 percent. Austrian employees are generally entitled to five weeks of paid vacation (and an additional week after 25 years in the workforce); the rate of absence due to illness/injury averages 13 workdays annually.