The mandatory fee-based publication in the print medium of the Official Journal of the Wiener Zeitung (Amtsblatt der Wiener Zeitung) ("Official Journal") is going to be replaced by free-of-charge publication on the new Electronic Announcement and Information Platform of the Federation ("EVI").
On 27 April 2023 the government passed the extremely controversial federal law on Wiener Zeitung GmbH and the establishment of an Electronic Announcement and Information Platform of the Federation (Wiener Zeitung GmbH und Einrichtung einer elektronischen Verlautbarungs- und Informationsplattform des Bundes Gesetz WZEVIG) in the National Council in the course of the government's media reform. As of 1 July 2023, EVI must be used instead of the previously obligatory publication of e.g., commercial register entries, in the print medium of the Official Journal. EVI is intended to provide Austrian citizens and companies with a simple, centralised access point to announcements that are required by federal law. The Wiener Zeitung is the world's oldest daily newspaper and will then only be published online and perhaps once a month in paper form, as the bulk of its revenue will be lost with the cessation of the mandatory publications.
Current legal situation
The Wiener Zeitung consists of an editorial section and the Official Journal. Pursuant to the Official Notices Act of 1985 (Verlautbarungsgesetz 1985), the Official Journal is the official publication medium of the Republic of Austria.
The information that must be published in the Official Journal includes:
i. registrations in the commercial register and further publications to be made by the commercial register court (Section 10 of the Austrian Commercial Code). For example, new registrations of companies, relocations of registered offices, deletions, appointments of new managing directors, or changes in the shareholding. This excludes entries concerning sole proprietorships and partnerships;
ii. annual financial statements (Section 277 of the Austrian Commercial Code);
iii. information in case of reorganizations; and
iv. notices of vacancies in the public service.
Law amendments and objectives
The act will be effective as of July 2023, and the required publications previously made in the Official Journal must then be published via EVI. This will be done in compliance with all provisions of data protection law. The essential change will be that the announcements ordered by federal law as well as their retrieval via EVI will be free of charge. The objective is to reduce bureaucracy and modernise administration. In order to financially relieve companies, the fee-based obligation to publish in the print medium of the Official Journal will be abolished. As a result, Austrian companies will save a total of around EUR 18m annually.
Other federal publication regulations remain unaffected by these amendments. The federal states and municipalities may choose whether to publish their announcements and publications via EVI.
The publication of registrations in the commercial register was previously only accomplished by the "announcement" or "publication" in both the Edict Archive (Ediktsdatei) and in the Official Journal. Though registrations will still be published in the Edict Archive and in the Official Journal, the relevant time of registration will now be determined by the entry in the commercial register.
In the long-term, by December 2027, the Austrian government intends to enable centralised access to information of public or economic interest through the platform. The plan is to make the Republic of Austria's legal information system (RIS), the company register, the land register as well as various other registers centrally accessible via EVI.
These modifications result from the implementation of Directive (EU) 2019/1151 amending Directive (EU) 2017/1132 as regards the use of digital tools and processes in company law, ("Digitalisation Directive"), which was partially implemented domestically with the Company Law Digitalisation Act 2022 (Gesellschaftliches Digitalisierungsgesetz 2022 - GesDigG 2022).
With the implementation of the Digitalisation Directive, large stock corporations now have the choice of either publishing their annual financial statements in the Official Journal themselves, as previously, or requesting the court to forward them to the Official Journal when submitting them to the commercial register.
The abolition of the fee for publication in the Official Journal in accordance with various legal requirements is appreciated. The complete abolition of the publication of the information regarding the commercial register entries in the Official Journal would have been even better, as the information is published in the Edict Archive of the federal government anyway. However, this would contradict the political goal of establishing a central publication and announcement platform at some point in the future that will make all information of public or economic interest centrally accessible.
By Nikolaus Stepan, Associate, Schoenherr