"Card payments only from €10" or "Please send the original document by mail" - it's sentences like these that make you doubt digitization and digital administration in Austria. Digitization has not only been an ongoing topic since the Covid-19 pandemic - the megatrend has been the focus of every discussion about business locations for years. As a trained Austrian, it is tempting to look toward Scandinavia and talk down everything in this country. But how does Austria actually stand? If you look at the area of administration or digital justice, you have to conclude: In fact, it's not that bad.
Austria as a model country
Even if one does not want to believe it, Austria is considered a model country and pioneer in the field of digital justice and digital administration and has already implemented various projects for which it has received great recognition throughout Europe. The Federal Legal Information System ("RIS"), introduced as early as 1998 and still respected today, deserves special mention. Even though it looks simple, it is a useful tool that is only available in this form in most Länder (if at all) for a fee. In RIS, in addition to all federal and provincial laws, (almost) all supreme court decisions back to 1980 are indexed as full texts, enabling a keyword search across all laws and court decisions. This facilitates access to justice and is thus also relevant against the background of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 16 "Access to Justice").
The webERV, an electronic communication option with courts/authorities, is also a success story. It was introduced in Austria in 2006 and today, with few exceptions, all submissions to courts and authorities are made using webERV. At the beginning of 2007, the use of webERV became mandatory for lawyers and notaries. In the meantime, this obligation has also been extended to other users (such as banks and insurance companies).
A positive recent example is the implementation of the EU Digitization Directive in Austria. This directive requires member states to enable the digital formation of limited liability companies (or equivalent legal forms). The Austrian legislator took this directive as an opportunity to create the possibility of digitally drawing up almost all notarial deeds - and not just deeds in connection with the formation of limited liability companies. A courageous and correct step into the future.
Austria is also exemplary when it comes to digitization in the area of financial administration. According to a recent study, 83% of tax returns in Austria are submitted electronically, and 88% are willing to do so. In fact, 72% of all Austrians regularly use e-governance services (and the trend is rising). Our neighboring countries are a long way from these figures: Germany is at around 65%, Switzerland at 67%. Only Estonia is ahead of Austria with an impressive 100%.
This is not surprising, however, as the Baltic state on the Baltic Sea has been playing a pioneering role in digitization for years and is in a league of its own. Whether it's voting in elections, setting up companies or tax services: In Estonia, 99% of all government services are now handled digitally. The eID, which is still in pilot phases in the vast majority of member states (including Austria), has been a reality in Estonia since 2000.
Where is there still potential?
Even though Austria compares well in Europe, not all that glitters is gold. There are still many areas of digital administration here where Austria has fallen far behind - especially in an international comparison with the USA and China. Whereas in the Valley or in Hong Kong you can set up a company with just a few clicks, in Austria it is a lengthy, laborious and also expensive process. Austria still has some catching up to do here and we want to contribute to this.
In summary, it can be said that Austria is on the right track in the area of digital administration - despite the fact that it is often badmouthed in this country. In order to remain fit for the future, it is important that Austria continues to make bold decisions so that it does not lose out here. Looking to the future, however, Austria is in danger of losing international ground, especially in the important future and digitization topics outside of digital administration (big data, AI, IOT or Industry 4.0). Or is the view of the learned Austrian also deceptive here?