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The Buzz in Austria: Interview with Friedrich Jergitsch of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

The Buzz in Austria: Interview with Friedrich Jergitsch of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

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“On the business side,” says Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Partner Friedrich Jergitsch, when asked what’s happening in Austria, "people are interested in artificial intelligence, data protection, and cyber-issues. These topics are always important to our clients.” Jergitsch says that data protection responsibilities and concerns “reach far beyond the GDPR.” He explains that “it’s an enormous subject in M&A, and M&A-related due diligence, because a lot of the M&A work involves clients purchasing data companies or cyber companies, and of course it’s a common post-M&A dispute topic, as well as a contractual topic, including in finance transactions.”

Jergitsch notes that several important EU laws are about to come into force imposing new duties on companies, "especially but not only in the banking sector.” The EU has drafted new legislation on cybersecurity, which is designed to protect information and web security throughout the common market. He reports that clients are already starting to seek advice about what their duties and obligations under the new directives will be, “so that’s a very big topic.” He notes that “while the GDPR is about dealing with data in a safe manner and how it should be processed, these new cyber security requirements are about how to make sure your systems (and proprietary and/or confidential information) are safe from attack.” Like the GDPR, this is likely to create more work for law firms. “The Cyber law is more a technical thing than the GDPR,” he says, "but certainly when it comes to construing the duties, lawyers will be able to assist with it. And it will also part of the due diligence process: “How well are your systems protected?”

In terms of Austrian legislation, Jergitsch says there’s nothing truly significant coming down the pike anytime soon, but he does say that “one of the things that’s being widely discussed is a recent watering-down of environmental protection legislation to facilitate business development.” He explains that “Austria tends to have very long administrative procedures, sometime lasting over several years, before the parties are able to receive a yes or no.” On balance, he says, he favors changes which can shorten this process. "There are risks, I think, so it depends on the overall way it’s done,” but “on the other hand, it is reasonable to say, 'we want a good procedure, but it needs to come in a reasonable time.'” The legislation was introduced in late 2018, and Jergitsch says it should soon become clear whether it works as intended.

Ultimately, Jergitsch reports, “business in Austria is going reasonably well — maybe because there is less overall business activity in Austria, so you don’t feel changes as much as you might in Germany or China. There may be a buffer.” Still, he agrees with those from across CEE who predict a slow-down in growth as the year continues. “People feel we’re due for a slow-down. There’s a wariness.” Even despite the buffer, he says, “it will inevitably filter down to Austria.”

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