THE SETTING: LEGAL LANDSCAPE IN AUSTRIA
THE AUSTRIAN LAW-MAKING PROCESS
Austria is a federal republic with a legislature both at federal level and at the level of the nine states: Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Burgenland, Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, the Tyrol, and Vorarlberg. Legislative competences are shared between the federal and the state level, in accordance with the Austrian Constitution, but state competences are rather limited, with a certain focus on planning and building laws, hunting and fishery laws or nature protection laws. Private law, including consumer contract law, lies within the exclusive competence of the federal legislature (cf. Article 10 of the Bundesverfassungsgesetz), which is also why the implementation of the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) was a responsibility of the federal parliament, the Nationalrat, which has 183 seats. There is also a second chamber of parliament, the Bundesrat, with 61 members elected by the state parliaments, allowing the states some very limited influence on legislative matters at federal level.
Most Bills are introduced by the federal government and prepared by experts in the relevant federal ministries. In the case of the implementation of CRD, the Ministry of Justice has taken the lead, with strong influence on the part of the Ministry for Labour, Social Matters and Consumer Protection. The drafting was coordinated by Johannes Stabentheiner, who is in charge of private consumer law in the Ministry of Justice, and assisted by a consultative body consisting of observers from other ministries, stakeholder representatives, academics and experts providing technical information on selected issues. While the drafting team started their work well in time and finalised a draft by early 2013, deadlock behind the scenes between strong stakeholder organisations led to significant delays, and it was only when a new Minister of Justice was appointed and Wolfgang Brandstetter took office that the draft was finally released on behalf of the federal government and submitted to the federal legislator. This was well after the official deadline for the implementation of CRD, which had been 13 December 2013, and publication of the Austrian implementing law, the ‘Consumer Rights Directive Implementation Law’ (Verbraucherrechte-Richtlinie- Umsetzungsgesetz, VRUG), did not occur until 26 May 2014. The law entered into force on 13 June 2014, in line with Article 28 CRD, leaving businesses with less than a month to adapt to the new regime.