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 one of Austria’s top two-way trading partners, ranking fifth in overall trade according to provisional data from 2021. 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 GDP decrease of 6.7% in 2020 with the unemployment rate increasing to a peak of 5.4% at the end of 2020. Austria’s economy rebounded with 4.5% GDP growth in 2021 and unemployment lower than before the onset of the pandemic, but forecasters recently lowered expectations to 3.8% growth for 2022 due to instability stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, Austria is experiencing a record number of vacancies, largely stemming from a shortage of skilled labor.
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 11.6 billion (USD 13.7 billion) in 2020, 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 high overall tax burden;
- A large public sector and a complex regulatory system with extensive bureaucracy;
- Low-to-moderate innovation dynamics;
- Low levels of digitalization;
- Low levels of private venture capital.
Key sectors that have historically attracted significant investment in Austria:
- ICT and Electronics;
Key issues to watch:
- Due to a strong reliance on Russian natural gas and the third-highest banking exposure to Russia among EU Member States, Austria could be one of the hardest countries hit by sanctions against Russia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions are expected to cause a 0.4-0.5% decrease in Austria’s GDP. However, the impact is likely to be greater if natural gas supplies are disrupted. Austria relies on Russian imports for approximately 80% of its natural gas demand.
- At the same time, Austria’s export-oriented economy makes it particularly sensitive to events affecting trade, which could include potential setbacks in the pandemic, particularly during the winter months. The tourism sector, which, together with hotels and restaurants, accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP is still struggling, currently operating at two-thirds of its pre-crisis output levels. Many companies are also struggling to find skilled labor, which is hindering the economy from reaching its full output potential.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2021||13 of 175||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|Global Innovation Index||2021||18 of 132||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||USD 4.95||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||USD 48,350||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign 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 limited restrictions on foreign investment. American investors have not complained of discriminatory laws against foreign investors. Austria’s investment screening law, which requires government approval of transactions leading to 10 percent or more foreign ownership in sensitive sectors, has resulted in an increase in the number of investments screened, from less than three per year, to 50 completed screenings from July 2020 to July 2021, the first full year law has been in effect. The majority of these screenings (31 in total) were for U.S.-based investments. Please see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details on the law and its applications.
The corporate tax rate, a 25 percent flat tax, is above the EU average. The government is planning to reduce it to 24 percent in 2023 and 23 percent in 2024. U.S. citizens and investors have occasionally 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 be aware of Austria’s lengthy environmental impact assessments in their investment decision-making. Some sectors also suffer from heavy regulation that may affect certain investments. For example, the requirement that over 50 percent of energy providers must be publicly owned places a potential cap on 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. The mining and transportation sectors are also heavily regulated.
Austria’s national investment promotion organization, the Austrian Business Agency (ABA), is a useful first point of contact for foreign companies interested in establishing operations 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.
The Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Austria (Amcham) are also good resources for foreign investors. Both conduct annual polls of their members to measure their satisfaction with the business climate, thus providing early warning to the government of problems identified by investors.
There is no principal limitation on establishing and owning a business in Austria. A local managing director must be appointed to any newly established 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 regulated trade sectors is only granted when certain preconditions are met, such as certificates of competence, and recognition of foreign education.
There are limited restrictions on foreign ownership of private businesses. Austria’s investment screening law, requires an investment screening process to review potential foreign acquisitions of 25 percent or more of a company essential to the country’s infrastructure, lowering the threshold to 10 percent for sensitive sectors (see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details). 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 European Commission will exchange information and raise concerns related to specific investments which could potentially threaten the security of EU countries.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) commented on Austria’s strengthened investment screening law following implementation in 2020, that the two-month screening process takes too long and places an undue administrative burden on companies. The AmCham advocated for expedited screenings for proposed investments with no clear threat to national security. Business interest groups, such as the Austrian Economic Chamber and the Federation of Austrian Industries also commented during the legislation’s draft and review process that the strengthened screening measures would impose an undue administrative burden on businesses, the definition of sectors requiring screening was too wide, and the updated legislation would reduce the attractiveness of Austria as an investment location.
Austria generally ranked in the top 30 countries in the world in the past World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” reports, but starting a business takes time. The average time to set up a company is 21 days, while the average time in OECD high income countries is 9.2 days.
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 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 sole proprietorships, 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/.
The Austrian government encourages outward investment. 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 five offices in the United States (Washington D.C., New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). Overall, it has about 100 trade offices in 70 countries across the world, reflecting Austria’s strong export focus and the important role the WKO plays. (https://www.wko.at/service/aussenwirtschaft/aussenwirtschaftscenter.html#heading_aussenwirtschaftscenter) 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 for market access costs and provides “soft subsidies,” such as counseling, legal advice, and marketing support.
3. Legal Regime
Austria’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms. The government does not provide assistance in distinguishing between high- and low-quality investments, leaving this up to the market.
Federal ministries generally publish draft laws and regulations, including investment laws, for public comment prior to their adoption by Austria’s cabinet and/or Parliament. Relevant stakeholders such as the “Social Partners” (Economic Chamber, Agricultural Chamber, Labor Chamber, and Trade Union Association), the Federation of Industries, and research institutions are invited to provide comments and suggestions on draft laws and regulations, directly online, which may be taken into account before adoption of laws. These comments are publicly available. Austria’s nine provinces can also adopt laws relevant to investments; their review processes are generally less extensive, but local laws are less important for investments than federal laws. The judicial system is independent from the executive branch, helping ensure the government follows administrative processes. The government is required to follow administrative processes and its compliance is monitored by the courts, primarily the Court of Auditors. Individuals can file proceedings against the government in Austria’s courts, if the government did not act in accordance with the law. Similarly, the public prosecution service can file cases against the government.
Draft legislation by ministries (“Ministerialentwürfe”) and resulting government draft laws and parliamentary initiatives (“Regierungsvorlagen und Gesetzesinitiativen”) can be accessed through the website of the Austrian Parliament: https://www.parlament.gv.at/PAKT/ (all in German). The parliament also publishes a history of all law-making processes. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx.
The effectiveness of regulations is not reviewed as a regular process, only on an as-needed basis. Austrian regulations governing accounting provide U.S. investors with internationally standardized financial information. In line with EU regulations, listed companies must prepare their consolidated financial statements according to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IAS/IFRS) system.
Public finances are transparent and easily accessible, through the Finance Ministry’s website, Austria’s Central Bank, and various economic research institutes. Overall, Austria has no legal restrictions, formally or informally, that discriminate against foreign investors.
Austria is a member of the EU. As such, its laws must comply with EU legislation and the country is therefore subject to European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction. Austria is a member of the WTO and largely follows WTO requirements. Austria has ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) but has not taken specific actions to implement it.
The Austrian legal system is based on Roman law. The constitution establishes a hierarchy, according to which each legislative act (law, regulation, decision, and fines) must have its legal basis in a higher legislative instrument. The full text of each legislative act is available online for reference. All final Austrian laws can be accessed through a government database, partly in English: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/defaultEn.aspx.
Commercial matters fall within the competence of ordinary regional courts except in Vienna, which has a specialized Commercial Court. The Commercial Court also has nationwide competence for trademark, design, model, and patent matters. There is no special treatment of foreign investors, and the executive branch does not interfere in judicial matters.
The legal system provides an effective means for protecting property and contractual rights of nationals and foreigners. Sensitive cases must be reported to the Ministry of Justice, which can issue instructions for addressing them. Austria’s civil courts enforce property and contractual rights and do not discriminate against foreign investors. Austria allows for court decisions to be appealed, first to a Regional Court and in the last instance, to the Supreme Court.
Austria has restrictions on investments in industries designated as critical infrastructure, technology, resources, and industries with access to sensitive information and involved in freedom and plurality of the media. The government must approve any foreign acquisition of a 25 percent or higher stake in any companies that generally fall within these areas. The threshold is 10 percent for sensitive sectors, defined as military goods and technology, operators of critical energy or digital infrastructure and water, system operators charged with guarding Austria’s data sovereignty and R&D in medicine and pharmaceutical products. Additional screenings are required when an investor in the above categories plans to increase the stake above the thresholds of 25 percent or 50 percent. The investment screening review period generally takes 2 months. The number of filed applications has increased significantly since the law was implemented, from three per year to 50 completed screenings in the first 12 months after the updated investment screening law went into effect (from July 2020 to July 2021). None of the completed screenings were rejected, and two were approved with amendments to safeguard domestic supply of the product/service in question.
There is no discrimination against foreign investors, but businesses are required to follow numerous local regulations. Although there is no requirement for participation by Austrian citizens in ownership or management of a foreign firm, at least one manager must meet Austrian residency and other legal requirements. Expatriates may deduct certain expenses (costs associated with moving, maintaining a double residence, education of children) from Austrian-earned income.
The “Law to Support Investments in Municipalities” (published in the Federal Law Gazette, 74/2017, available online in German only on the federal legal information system www.ris.bka.gv.at), allows federal funding of up to 25 percent of the total investment amount of a project to “modernize” a municipality. The Austrian Business Agency serves as a central contact point for companies looking to invest in Austria. It does not serve as a one-stop-shop but can help answer any questions potential investors may have (https://investinaustria.at/en/).
Austria’s Antitrust Act (ATA) is in line with European Union antitrust regulations, which take precedence over national regulations in cases concerning Austria and other EU member states. The Austrian Antitrust Act prohibits cartels, anticompetitive practices, and the abuse of a dominant market position. The independent Federal Competition Authority (FCA) and the Federal Antitrust Prosecutor (FAP) are responsible for administering antitrust laws. The FCA can conduct investigations and request information from firms. The FAP is subject to instructions issued by the Justice Ministry and can bring actions before Austria’s Cartel Court. Additionally, the Commission on Competition may issue expert opinions on competition policy and give recommendations on notified mergers. The most recent amendment to the ATA was in 2017. This amendment facilitated enforcing private damage claims, strengthened merger control, and enabled appeals against verdicts from the Cartel Court.
Companies must inform the FCA of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Special M&A regulations apply to media enterprises, such as a lower threshold above which the ATA applies, and the requirement that media diversity must be maintained. A cartel court is competent to rule on referrals from the FCA or the FCP. For violations of antitrust regulations, the cartel court can impose fines of up to the equivalent of 10 percent of a company’s annual worldwide sales. The independent energy regulator E-Control separately examines antitrust concerns in the energy sector but must also submit cases to the cartel court.
Austria’s Takeover Law applies to friendly and hostile takeovers of corporations headquartered in Austria and listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. The law protects investors against unfair practices, since any shareholder obtaining a controlling stake in a corporation (30 percent or more in direct or indirect control of a company’s voting shares) must offer to buy out smaller shareholders at a defined fair market price. The law also includes provisions for shareholders who passively obtain a controlling stake in a company. The law prohibits defensive action to frustrate bids. The Shareholder Exclusion Act allows a primary shareholder with at least 90 percent of capital stock to force out minority shareholders. An independent takeover commission at the Vienna Stock Exchange oversees compliance with these laws. Austrian courts have also held that shareholders owe a duty of loyalty to each other and must consider the interests of fellow shareholders in good faith.
According to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Austrian Civil Code, property ownership is guaranteed in Austria. Expropriation of private property in Austria is rare and may be undertaken by federal or provincial government authorities only based on special legal authorization “in the public interest” in such instances as land use planning, and infrastructure project preparations. The government can initiate such a procedure only in the absence of any other alternatives for satisfying the public interest; when the action is exclusively in the public interest; and when the owner receives just compensation. For example, in 2017-18, the government expropriated Hitler’s birth house in order to prevent it from becoming a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis, paying the former owner EUR 1.5 million (USD 1.8 million) in compensation. The expropriation process is non-discriminatory toward foreigners, including U.S. firms. There is no indication that further expropriations will take place in the foreseeable future.
The Austrian Insolvency Act contains provisions for business reorganization and bankruptcy proceedings. Reorganization requires a restructuring plan and the debtor to be able to cover costs or advance some of the costs up to a maximum of EUR 4,000 (USD 4,720). The plan must offer creditors at least 20 percent of what is owed, payable within two years of the date the debtor’s obligation is determined. The plan must be approved by a majority of all creditors and a majority of creditors holding at least 50 percent of all claims.
If the restructuring plan is not accepted, a bankruptcy proceeding is begun. Bankruptcy proceedings take place in court upon application of the debtor or a creditor; the court appoints a receiver for winding down the business and distributing proceeds to the creditors. Bankruptcy is not criminalized, provided the affected person performed all his documentation and reporting obligations on time and in accordance with the law.
Austria’s major commercial association for the protection of creditors in cases of bankruptcy is the “KSV 1870 Group”, www.ksv.at, which also carries out credit assessments of all companies located in Austria. Other European-wide credit bureaus, particularly “CRIF” and “Bisnode”, also monitor the Austrian market.
4. Industrial Policies
Financial incentives and business subsidies provided by Austrian federal, state, and local governments to promote investments are equally available to domestic and foreign investors and include tax incentives, preferential loans, loan guarantees, and grants. Most incentives are targeted to investments that meet specified criteria, including job-creation and promotion of education, use of cutting-edge technology, improving regional infrastructure, strengthening SMEs, promoting research and development, supporting environmental protection, increasing renewable energy production, and promoting startups. Under these conditions, the EU ban on state aid would not apply.
Austria’s Wirtschaftsservice (AWS) is the governmental institution that provides most federal government financial incentives for businesses. Information on targeted investment incentives is available at https://www.aws.at/en/. More detailed information on investment incentives and promotion in English language is also available on the ABA website (see chapter 1) at http://investinaustria.at/en/.
The AWS also focuses on promoting investments, particularly for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), providing guarantees of up to EUR 25 million (USD 29.5 million) over 5 to 10 years for investments in Austria. Companies can also profit from growing their already existing investments, resulting in a 10 to 15 percent additional grant for this expansion.
Various government agencies in Austria offer incentives for research and development (R&D) activities, including grants of up to 14 percent of investors’ total research expenditures. The incentives are also available for foreign-owned enterprises. The agencies providing incentives include: The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) (https://www.ffg.at/en); the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), which is the country’s central body for the promotion of basic research (https://www.fwf.ac.at/en/); and AWS (above).
Austria’s 2022 tax reform, as of January 2023, foresees a new 10-15 percent (eco-) investment tax allowance for purchasing new commodities or business assets that have a life span of at least four years and/or have an ecological impact on the business of the company (which the government will further define by ordinance before this aspect of the tax reform enters into force).
In 2022, Austria plans to fund investments in the life sciences sector with up to EUR 29 million (USD 34 million), particularly for production of pharmaceuticals such as penicillin.
A law to expand the production of renewable energy provides for investment subsidies and subsidies to sell renewable energy on the market for investors installing new wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower plants, which entered into force in February 2022. The subsidies are subject to installed capacities and environmental conditions.
If investors want to employ foreign workers from outside the EU in Austria, they need to apply for a work permit with the immigration authority in one of the Austrian provinces. The Austrian Labor Service (AMS) then certifies whether there is no comparable person in the pool of registered unemployed persons in Austria, which is a prerequisite for employing non-EU workers. This does not apply to senior management positions, researchers, highly qualified personnel, and a limited set of other categories.
Austria offers several non-immigrant business visa classifications, including intra-company transfers/rotational workers, and employees on temporary duty. Recruitment of long-term, overseas specialists or those with managerial duties is governed by a points-based immigration scheme to attract skilled workers and specialists in individual sectors (points are available for qualification, education, age, and language skills). This Red-White-Red card (RWR) model allows firms to react flexibly to rising demand for talent in different occupations. It is available to highly qualified individuals, qualified specialists/craftsmen in certain understaffed professions (qualified labor and registered nurse jobs), and key personnel/professionals. Applicants must have an offer of employment to apply for the RWR. Highly qualified individuals holding U.S. citizenship may apply locally in Austria or opt to find a potential employer from abroad and have the company apply in Austria on their behalf.
Austrian immigration law requires those applying for residency permits in some categories to take German language courses and exams. There is a specific visa category under the RWR model for independent key specialists and founders of start-up enterprises to support Austria’s push to expand its innovation economy.
A less bureaucratic alternative is the EU Blue Card, which entitles applicants to a fixed-term residency of 24 months, and employment is tied to a specific employer. However, there is a threshold of a gross annual income of at least one and a half times the average gross annual income for full-time employees (in 2021: at least EUR 66,563 (USD 78,544); annual salary plus special payments).
While there is no requirement for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption, EU and Austrian data protection stipulations apply. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as adopted by Austria in 2018, places restrictions on companies’ ability to store and use customer data. It also requires specific user consent for companies to send out promotional materials (previously, implied consent was sufficient). Transmission of customer or business-related data is therefore subject to EU GDPR regulations. Austria’s Data Protection Authority is in charge of enforcing all GDPR-related matters, which include GDPR rules on data storage.
In January 2022, the Austrian Data Protection Authority ruled that the website netdoktor.at violated EU GDPR rules for its use of Google Analytics. The Data Protection Authority found that using Google Analytics violated the GDPR in two key ways: 1) the transfer of personalized data to third countries that do not have stricter than or equal data protection rights as the EU is not allowed under the EU GDPR; and 2) users do not have the opportunity to willfully consent to the transfer. The data privacy organization noyb, which brought the case forward, filed over 100 similar cases across the EU. Similar rulings across EU countries are expected to follow over the course of the year.
The Austrian government may impose performance requirements when foreign investors seek financial or other assistance from the government, although there are no performance requirements to apply for tax incentives. There is no requirement that Austrian nationals hold shares in foreign investments or for technology transfer, and no requirement for foreign investors to use domestic content in the production of goods or technology.
5. Protection of Property Rights
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.
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), the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), 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. Austria implemented the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (2019/790) by adopting an amendment to the Austrian Copyright Act in December 2021, with the Austrian music and film industry lauding it as “modern, balanced, and taking into account the interests of the related business sector.”
Following a High Court decision from 2014, 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. In 2020 they registered 27,000 reports of illegal content.
Austria also has a law against trade in counterfeit articles in place (amended 2020, streamlining the customs authorities in charge of tracking violations). In 2020 (latest available report), Austrian customs authorities confiscated pirated goods worth EUR 24 million (USD 28.3 million), which was a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
Austria is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 or notorious markets reports, but its trade secrets regime has historically been 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. The new law also defines injunctive relief and claims for damages in case of breach of trade secrets. The 2020 government program includes a plan to further toughen prosecution of violation of trade secrets that have an impact on Austria as a business location and to tackle industrial espionage, but no specific actions to implement the plan have been taken yet.
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
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 64 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 31 percent of Austria’s GDP, compared to 59 percent in Germany or 194 percent 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 very little private venture capital available. The Austrian government is aware of this issue 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 has one of the most fragmented banking networks in Europe with more than 3,800 branch offices registered in 2021. 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 1.0 trillion (USD 1.2 trillion) in 2020 (approximately 2.5 times the country’s GDP). Approximately EUR 460 billion (USD 543 billion) of banking sector assets are held by Austria’s two largest banks, Erste Group and Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI). The Austrian banking sector is considered one of the most stable in the world. 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 (which was declared insolvent in March 2022, and its operations are now being wound down in a bankruptcy proceeding), 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. government 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 established U.S. corporate headquarters.
Austria has no sovereign wealth funds.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Austria has two major wholly state-owned enterprises (SOEs): The OeBB (Austrian Federal Railways) and Asfinag (highway financing, building, maintenance, and administration). Other government industry holding companies are bundled in the government holding company OeBAG (http://www.oebag.gv.at)
The government has direct representation in the supervisory boards of its companies (commensurate with its ownership stake), and OeBAG has the authority to buy and sell company shares, as well as purchase minority stakes in strategically relevant companies. Such purchases are subject to approval from an audit committee consisting of government-nominated independent economic experts.
OeBAG holds a 53 percent stake in the Post Office, 51 percent in energy company Verbund, 33 percent in the gambling group Casinos Austria, 31.5 percent in the energy company OMV, 28 percent in the Telekom Austria Group, as well as a handful of smaller ventures. Local governments own most utilities, the Vienna International Airport, and more than half of Austria’s 270 hospitals and clinics.
Private enterprises in Austria can generally compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to market access, credit, and other such business operations as licenses and supplies. While most SOEs must finance themselves under terms similar to private enterprises, some large SOEs (such as OeBB) benefit from state-subsidized pension systems. As a member of the EU, Austria is also a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the WTO, which indirectly also covers the SOEs (since they are entities monitored by the Austrian Court of Auditors).
The five major OeBAG-controlled companies (Postal Service, Verbund AG, Casinos Austria, OMV, Telekom Austria), are listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange. Senior managers in these companies do not directly report to a minister, but to an oversight board. However, the government often appoints management and board members, who usually have strong political affiliations.
The government has not privatized any public enterprises since 2007. Austrian public opinion is skeptical regarding further privatization, and there are no indications of any government privatizations on the horizon. In prior privatizations, foreign and domestic investors received equal treatment. Despite a historical government preference for maintaining blocking minority rights for domestic shareholders, foreign investors have successfully gained full control of enterprises in several strategic sectors of the Austrian economy, including in telecommunications, banking, steel, and infrastructure.
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.
Austria is a signatory to the Montreaux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, which it ratified in 2008.
Austria has a National Climate and Energy Plan in place. It was last updated in 2019, and the government is currently preparing an update that it should have reported to the European Commission by end of 2020, according to the EU Climate and Energy Package, but it has not done so yet. The government, in its 2020 program, set the goal that Austria must be climate-neutral by 2040. According to the EU goals as outlined in the “Green Deal,” Austria is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 48 percent by 2030.
To implement the climate goals, Austria introduced a law to expand production and supply of renewable energies (photovoltaics, wind, hydropower, biomass) with annual subsidies of around USD 1 million until 2030. The government plans to invest EUR 17.5 billion (USD 20.7 billion) in the expansion of rail infrastructure and is subsidizing train tickets and the purchase of electric cars (around USD 5,900 per purchase). The Parliament, in 2021, adopted a “green tax reform,” introducing a new CO2 emissions pricing system as of July 2022, that phases in a fixed price, rising from EUR 30 (USD 34) per ton of CO2 in 2022 to EUR 55 (USD 62) in 2025. The tax reform will affect energy-intensive production of the private sector, but the government has not set specific emissions reduction goals for businesses.
In April 2021, the government introduced a comprehensive “biodiversity monitoring” system to provide an overview over the number of (endangered) species and habitats in Austria. The Ministry for Climate, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology set up a EUR 50 million (USD 59 million) “Biodiversity Fund” to support the monitoring system to be implemented with input from universities and environmental NGOs.
In 2021, the government adopted an “Action Plan Sustainable Procurement,” providing 16 binding ecological criteria for all public procurement beginning in 2022. It includes requiring emission-free cars for the government’s fleet, providing all public buildings with 100 percent electricity from renewable sources, and purchasing organic food for hospitals and school cafeterias.
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. Austria ranked 13th (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.
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 public’s belief in the integrity of the political system was shaken by the 2019 Ibiza scandal, when a 2017 video surfaced in which Vice Chancellor and chair of the right populist Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz Christian Strache and the FPOe floor leader in Parliament Johann Gudenus were filmed discussing providing government contracts in exchange for favors and political party donations with a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch. 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. Strache was convicted of corruption and bribery by the Vienna District Court in August 2021 following a separate health care fraud investigation. In October 2021, then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) announced his resignation amid allegations that, while he was Foreign Minister in 2016, his inner circle paid newspapers to publish falsified opinion polls in his favor; that investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors is still ongoing. Finance Minister Bluemel (OeVP) also resigned, and prosecutors continue to investigate allegations that he may have facilitated political 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 investigations and 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. The official verdict was published in January 2022, and Grasser is expected to appeal the sentence.
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 2,950). No donor is allowed to give more than EUR 7,500 (USD 8,850) and total donations to one political party may not exceed EUR 750,000 (USD 885,000) 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 2.1 million).
To date, U.S. companies have not reported any instances of corruption inhibiting FDI.
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
1100 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43-(0)1-960 760
10. Political and Security Environment
Generally, civil disturbances are rare and the overall security environment in the country is considered to be safe. There have been no incidents of politically motivated damage to foreign businesses. Austria suffered a terrorist attack on November 2, 2020, when a gunman shot and killed four civilians and injured 23 in the center of Vienna.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Austria has a well-educated and productive labor force of 4.3 million, of whom 3.8 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 an increase in unemployment, which reached 5.4 percent in 2020, but has since returned to near-pre-crisis levels. As of February 2022, the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, compared to 4.5 percent in 2019. At the same time, the number of people unemployed for longer than 12 months has increased by 23 percent since the start of the pandemic. The Labor Ministry is developing initiatives to reintegrate long-term unemployed in the job market and combat the current shortage of skilled labor. To combat the effects of lockdown-related business closures, the government implemented a subsidized reduced hours work program, enabling employers to reduce employees’ hours by up to 90 percent, with assistance to cover up to 80-90 percent of regular pay, which was in place until March 2022 and helped keep the unemployment rate under control.
Foreigners account for almost one-quarter of Austria’s labor force; around 840,000 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. Migrant 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 and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding to foster cooperation on apprenticeships and workforce development in April 2022. 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 percent 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 decades (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 1,770) per month, with monthly wages paid 14 times per year. This equates to an hourly wage of EUR 10.09 (approx. USD 11.91), 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.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Vienna, Vienna 1090, Boltzmanngasse 16
+43 1 31339-2387