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.
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 limited restrictions on foreign investment. American investors have not complained of discriminatory laws against foreign investors. Austria strengthened its national security investment screening law, lowering the threshold at which government approval of the transaction is required to 10 percent foreign ownership for sensitive sectors. Please see the “Laws and Regulations on Foreign Investment” section below for further details. The corporate tax rate, a 25 percent flat tax, is above the OECD average of 21.5 percent. The government announced plans to reduce it to 21 percent in 2024 but the global pandemic may delay these plans. 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 an energy provider 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.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are limited restrictions on foreign ownership of private businesses 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.
Austria’s updated national security investment screening law, strengthened in July 2020, retains an investment screening process to review potential high-risk foreign acquisitions of 25% or more of a company essential to the country’s infrastructure, lowering the threshold to 10% ownership 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 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 other EU countries.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
While the World Bank ranked Austria as the 27th best country in 2020 with regard to “ease of doing business” (www.doingbusiness.org), starting a business takes time and requires many procedural steps (Austria ranked 127th in this category in 2020). The average time to set up a company is 21 days, while the average time in OECD high income countries is 9.2 days.
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 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.
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 six offices in the United States (Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, 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.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
There is currently no 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, Kyrgyzstan, 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.
Austria was not among the 23 EU countries that signed the agreement for the termination of intra-EU bilateral investment treaties on May 5, 2020. Austria agreed with the European Commission to terminate its 12 bilateral intra-EU BITS (as did the other Member States), but negotiations on the date of termination are ongoing with these Member States.
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.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Austria’s legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.
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 for improvement, 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.
International Regulatory Considerations
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.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
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.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Austria has national security 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% or higher stake in any companies that generally fall within these areas. The threshold is 10% 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% or 50%. The investment screening review period generally takes 1-2 months. The Austrian government has reported an increase in filed applications since the law was implemented but has not reported any rejected applications under the new law.
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 government also introduced several investment incentives, due to COVID-19 (see the “Investment Incentives” section for details). 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/)
Competition and Antitrust Laws
Austria’s Anti-Trust Act (ATA) is in line with EU anti-trust regulations, which take precedence over national regulations in cases concerning Austria and other EU member states. The Austrian Anti-Trust Act prohibits cartels, anticompetitive practices, and the abuse of a dominant market position. The independent Federal Competition Authority (FCA) and the Federal Anti-trust Prosecutor (FAP) are responsible for administering anti-trust 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 anti-trust 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.
Expropriation and Compensation
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” such 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 €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.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Austria is a member of both the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, meaning local courts must enforce foreign arbitration awards in Austria. There is no specific domestic legislation in this regard, but local courts must enforce arbitration decisions where the affected companies have their business locations.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Austria is a member of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). Its arbitration law largely conforms to the UNCITRAL model law. The main divergence is that an award may only be set aside if the arbitral procedure is not in accordance with Austrian public policy.
Austria does not have a BIT or FTA with the United States. There is no special domestic arbitration body.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Vienna International Arbitral Center of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber acts as Austria’s main arbitration institution, handling both national and international cases. Legislation is modeled after the UNCITRAL model law (see above). The New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (NYC) overrides most of Austria’s domestic provisions, where applicable, and Austrian courts are consistent in applying it.
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 4,480). 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.
Due to COVID-19, Austria provided an extension for initiating bankruptcy proceedings for companies becoming technically bankrupt between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. The court may, upon application of any of the parties involved, extend procedural deadlines by 90 days. For applications filed by December 31, 2020, the deadline for paying the 20 percent owed to creditors has been extended to three years, instead of two.
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, use of cutting-edge technology, improving regional infrastructure, strengthening SMEs, promoting research and development, supporting environmental protection, and promoting startups. Tax allowances for advanced employee training and R&D expenditures are also available, as are financing options for start-ups and cash grants. The Austrian Labor Market Service (AMS) offers grants for job creation and personnel development training.
Various government agencies in Austria offer incentives for research and development (R&D) activities (up to 50 percent of the investment amount). 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). The latter also provides guarantees of up to EUR 25 million over 5 to 10 years for investments in Austria, with a focus on small and medium-sized companies.
Foreign investors in Austria can also benefit from government support measures designed for companies affected by COVID-19, including: a hardship fund for sole proprietorships; a COVID-19 assistance fund which provides EUR 15 billion (USD $16.8 billion) in loan guarantees; banking measures to increase liquidity; and a short-time work (Kurzarbeit) program which allows staff working hours to be reduced by up to 90%, with the government paying up to 90% of the salary cost. The government also established a EUR 100 million (USD 112 million) COVID-19 assistance package for startups, where it matches one-to-one private (including foreign) investments in Austrian startups, and a EUR 50 million (USD 56 million) venture capital fund (also open for foreign investors), where it guarantees 50% of the fund’s investment. More information can be found here: https://investinaustria.at/en/downloads/covid-19.php
From September 2020 to February 2021 the government offered an “investment premium” for all new investments up to EUR 50 million (USD 60 million) in Austria with the exception of certain sectors (e.g. investments detrimental for climate protection, buildings, financial assets, etc.). The program provided a subsidy of up to 14% of investments in greening, digitalization, and health, and 7% of all other investments. The initiative was expanded and extended due to high demand and another extension or a new program is possible.
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/.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
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, in order 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 October 2019, the DPA imposed a fine of EUR 18 million (USD 20.2 million) on Austria’s Postal Service Company (PSC) for illegal use of customer data, which included collecting and selling data on party affiliations. The postal service was ordered to delete the data concerned, but in December 2020 the Federal Administrative Court annulled the fine, saying the DPA should have fined individual managers rather than the PSC.
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.
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 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 settlement 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 65,579 (USD 78,039); annual salary plus special payments).
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.
Further details on registering property in Austria, where the country generally scores well, can be found in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, where Austria ranks above OECD high-incomes countries on quality, time and procedures of land administration, and slightly behind them on costs. https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/data/exploreeconomies/austria#DB_rp
Intellectual Property Rights
Austria has a strong legal structure to protect intellectual property rights (IPR), including patent and trademark laws, a law protecting industrial designs and models, and a copyright law. Austria is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to several international IPR 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 IPR. 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 is still in the process of implementing the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (2019/790); the government is currently incorporating input from rights holders and aims to adopt the Austrian legislation by June 2021. 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 has a law against trade in counterfeit articles. In 2020, Austrian customs authorities confiscated pirated goods worth EUR 24.0 million (USD 26.9 million), which is a six-fold increase from the previous year.
Austria is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List, 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 trade secrets violations 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 to date.
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.
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, and a few other minor ventures. Local governments own the majority of utilities, Vienna International Airport, and more than half of Austria’s 264 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. That being said, the government often appoints management and board members who 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. In March 2020, the government chose not to intervene when the Czech Sazka group increased its stake in the partially state-owned gambling group Casinos Austria to a majority share.
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.
The Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs, Health, and Consumer Protection is also represented in national and international CSR-relevant associations, and supports CSR initiatives while working closely together with the Austrian Standards Institute.
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
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 lone 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 4.1 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.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
OPIC programs are not available for Austria.
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; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)