GCR 100 - 17th Edition

Austria

10 January 2017

Austria

The competition scene in Vienna offers a good mix of self-standing practices that attract their own clients, boutique firms, and groups that rely on the steady stream of work from their firms’ corporate practices.

Elite

The all-star competition practice at BINDER GRÖSSWANG this year emerges as elite. Practice head Raoul Hoffer, partner Johannes Barbist and counsel Isabelle Innerhofer are all known for tackling some of the most high-profile and complex Austrian cases in all three pillars of competition law.

The firm provides competition and state aid advice to a number of banks concerning 19 merger filings as a result of the ongoing consolidation to Austria’s cooperative bank sector, and advised Novomatic on its attempted acquisition of a stake in Casinos Austria. The Cartel Court blocked the deal in September 2016 after a Phase II probe. Binder Grösswang also guided Service Bank as the Austrian credit card issuer bought DC Bank, the issuer of Diners Club cards. The acquisition cleared without conditions following lengthy Phase I Austrian proceedings.

In addition to a suite of high-profile merger control and cartel cases, the team acts for an association of travel agents in an abuse of dominance case, and represents clients in three other confidential abuse cases. The team is also in the driver’s seat when it comes to private enforcement, having built up its antitrust litigation practice by bringing claims on behalf of the city of Vienna and a host of other clients against the members of the elevator cartel – a matter which is still pending before Austria’s Commercial Court. Other clients of theirs include Lenzing, Lidl, ÖBB Infrastruktur, Airbus, Kia Motors and Coca-Cola.

BPV HÜGEL is widely considered to have one of Austria’s leading competition teams, and frequently appears on the counsel list of some of the biggest deals affecting the country. Astrid Ablasser-Neuhuber leads the practice group, and for six years has chaired the Austrian working group of Studienvereinigung Kartellrecht, a German-speaking antitrust lawyer group. Florian Neumayr spearheads the fully integrated antitrust litigation practice, while three other partners, two junior partners and four associates round out their team.

The firm offers strategic advice to a range of long-standing and new clients in merger control, cartel defence, abuse of dominance and state aid cases, as well as general antitrust compliance. It acted for Axel Springer in a joint venture with Funke Gruppe, a deal that obtained conditional clearance during a Phase I probe by the Austrian enforcer. Ablasser-Neuhuber and partner Gerhard Fussenegger represented Voestalpine in its appeal against a DG Comp fine for the company’s involvement in the pre-stressing steel cartel. The General Court ultimately slashed the penalty from €22 million to €7.5 million.

Recently, the team acted for AFS Franchise-Systeme, the central purchasing arm of one of Austria’s largest do-it-yourself franchises, in a resale price maintenance case before Austria’s Federal Competition Authority and Cartel Court. They also represent clients in two separate abuse of dominance investigations before the Austrian authority and an abuse of dominance case before the European Commission. Most of their ongoing investigation work remains confidential, although other key antitrust clients include Telekom Austria, IKEA, OMV and Cemex.

This year, EISENBERGER & HERZOG debuts as a top-tier Austrian competition practice, boasting one of the largest competition teams in the country, with four partners and seven associates in its fully dedicated competition group. Dieter Thalhammer is a revered member of Vienna’s competition bar, and leads a team that prides itself on its ability to find innovative ways to tackle complex legal challenges. Meanwhile, senior partner Andreas Zellhofer has a strong state aid and behavioural practice.

The team represented a rail cargo company in DG Comp’s freight-forwarding cartel investigation, winning the company a fine reduction through leniency and settlement procedures. The company also turned to Eisenberger & Herzog in its defence against Austrian follow-on damages claims. Thalhammer and his colleagues acted for Nikon before the Austrian enforcer in an investigation concerning allegations of anticompetitive conduct, which ended with a settlement; and for shoemaker Asics in proceedings against Sports Direct on whether changes to a control clause constituted abuse of dominance.

The firm also advised EconGas and its parent company OMV in cartel and abuse of dominance proceedings before the Cartel Court, represented food retail companies and a multinational company in separate Austrian antitrust investigations, and acted for an international service provider in cartel proceedings that had been initiated by a leniency application to the European Commission. On the merger side, Eisenberger & Herzog has been responsible for filings for EQT, Granit, Energie Burgenland and Færch Plast. While some of their work is confidential, the team merits GCR elite status for their breadth of merger, investigation and private enforcement work across sectors.

Competitors largely view SCHÖNHERR, alongside bpv Hügel, as being home to Austria’s top competition practice. All four Austrian partners are Who’s Who Legal: Competition nominees, and practice head Franz Urlesberger and partners Hanno Wollmann, Volker Weiss and Christoph Haid all have a reputation for generating top-notch, international antitrust work. Weiss splits his time between Brussels and Vienna, while Haid handles regional merger filings both in and out of the Vienna office. One counsel and four associates complete their highly regarded practice group.

While most of their work is confidential, the Schönherr team is extremely active in merger control, cartel and abuse cases both at the Austrian and European level. The team acted for América Móvil when the company took over Telekom Austria, the incumbent Austrian telecom provider across central and eastern Europe. Schönherr advised OMV FE Trading in its acquisition of Hofer petrol stations, a deal the Austrian enforcer cleared during a Phase II investigation with commitments. They also represented OMV on its planned takeover of all shares in EconGas, which was cleared in Phase I; and advised Funke Mediengruppe in a deal with Axel Springer, which required two notifications and was cleared during a Phase II probe by the Cartel Court subject to conditions.

On the behavioural side, Schönherr acted for Altstoff Recycling in one of the few abuse of dominance investigations by the European Commission concerning the application of TFEU article 102 to environmental industries. In September 2016, the European Commission fined the company €6 million for foreclosing competition in the domestic market for recycling and waste collection services, marking the first time the enforcer discounted an abuse of dominance penalty based on cooperation. The firm also acted for elevator company KONE during an investigation that led to the Cartel Court imposing fines against the company for bid rigging, and continues to act for them in private claims that follow on from KONE’s role in the cartel.

At Wolf Theiss, renowned competition lawyer Günter Bauer leads the practice group and works alongside counsel Jochen Anweiler. They are assisted by Robert Wagner and Paul Hesse, senior associates who both have at least six years of antitrust experience; and four other associates. With one of Austria’s largest teams exclusively dedicated to competition law, Wolf Theiss is unquestionably a household name in the antitrust bar. The team also draws support from approximately 30 other lawyers who practice competition law at the firm’s offices in 13 countries.

In the past year the firm’s Vienna practice has grown, having brought on an industry-spanning range of new clients in both cartel cases and merger control. Most of the firm’s ongoing work is confidential, although the team is acting for clients in two separate cartel investigations by the Austrian authority and representing a company in a bid-rigging investigation and parallel criminal probe in relation to those antitrust charges. In merger control, they advised international do-it-yourself retailer OBI on its acquisition of a company with 67 retail stores in a number of jurisdictions – a deal in which the second-biggest market player bought the biggest, and considered to be one of the most complex Austrian mergers to date.

The team also advised private equity firm Advent in Austrian and European merger control proceedings for the purchase of Hypo Group Alpe Adria’s south-eastern European network, one of the largest transactions in Austria’s banking sector since the 2008 financial crisis. The team also advised on state aid aspects of the deal. Some of their other competition clients include Sportradar, Post AG, General Electric, Makita and Bertelsmann.

Andreas Traugott of BAKER & MCKENZIE has a sterling reputation among his competitors. He works alongside partners Alexander Petsches and Marc Lager, as well as Anita Lukaschek, who brought 14 years of Austrian enforcement experience when she joined the firm in October 2015. They represent scores of clients in all three competition law areas, but perhaps are best known for their expertise in merger control. Most notably, the team advised Telefónica Group when it bought up Germany-based E-Plus Group, in which the team developed an innovative framework that allowed Telefónica to plan the companies’ integration in parallel to lengthy merger control proceedings by the European Commission.

The practice group receives the majority of its business through the Baker & McKenzie international network and works closely with the firm’s Brussels team for proceedings before the European commission and courts. But in Austria alone, Traugott and his team make 30 to 40 merger filings each year. Recently, they advised Amundi on its acquisition of BAWAG PSK; British American Tobacco when it picked up Adris Grupa; and Hitachi Koki in the company’s tie-up with Metabowerke. Traugott and Lager, alongside Vienna commercial litigation expert Stefan Riegler, represent Schindler in multiple follow-on lawsuits linked to the Austrian elevator cartel case.

Former Freshfields lawyer Isabella Hartung joined BARNERT EGERMANN ILLIGASCH to establish the firm’s competition practice. Described as “very professional and exceedingly bright” by a fellow lawyer, she is widely respected among the Viennese bar as an antitrust expert. Along with two associates, Hartung represented Gebrüder in Austrian freight-forwarding cartel proceedings, which saw the company settle with Austria’s competition authority in 2014, and advised Arrow Electronics in merger control filings in its acquisition of Data Modul.

Hartung’s roster of cases and clients is particularly outstanding given the relative size of her practice group. She acts for a range of clients including companies that operate in the telecoms, media and sports equipment sectors, and has advised several clients in proceedings before the Cartel Court for allegedly failing to notify mergers and on potential abuse of dominance claims. Hartung is also local counsel to a hotel booking platform with respect to an antitrust investigation, and represents an art-house cinema in proceedings brought by a competitor regarding allegedly illegal state aid.

FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER suffered a blow in May 2015 with the departure of Axel Reidlinger, who had been the firm’s sole competition partner in Vienna and its practice group leader. Berlin partner Thomas Lübbig now heads the four-associate team and says he spends about one-third of his time in Vienna. But despite Freshfields’ top-tier status internationally – having been consistently ranked as number 1 in GCR’s Global Elite – there is no question that their Austrian presence has dropped off since Reidlinger’s departure. The firm’s downgrade to “highly recommended” will likely be temporary, however, as senior associate Anna Wolf-Posch is already making waves among Freshfields’ competitors and is well known in Vienna for her competition savvy.

The Viennese team is active and becoming increasingly integrated with the firm’s other practice groups across Europe – particularly in Berlin – working on a number of international, high-profile investigations: they represent a major transport company in a state aid case, and are acting with Freshfields’ London team for a financial institution concerning allegations of foreign exchange rate manipulation, among others. Recently, the Vienna team also provided advice to ThyssenKrupp in a cartel damages case, and to an international retailer of electronic goods in a separate antitrust matter. On the deals side, they advised Wincor Nixdorf with respect to the company’s merger with US competitor Diebold, which cleared with remedies. They are also advising Greenyard Foods on Austrian and German merger control aspects in its buy-up of Lutèce.

Following his departure from Freshfields in 2015, Axel Reidlinger and corporate lawyer Hanno Schatzmann co-founded boutique firm REIDLINGER SCHATZMANN. Reidlinger is a long-time competition heavyweight in Vienna, having acted on some of the largest and most market-defining mergers and antitrust investigations in Austria. After 14 years in the Freshfields’ partnership, he said he departed for the “opportunity to start a new project” and to be in a more flexible and independent position in the Austrian market. One year after setting up shop, Reidlinger’s reputation is as legendary as ever, although his new practice enters GCR’s rankings as highly recommended because of the capacity limits of working in a small team. He is assisted by former Freshfields associate Diana Ionescu, who works primarily in cartel and abuse cases at both the EU and Austrian levels, and new associate Pia Bauer.

Together, they advise the holding company of Austria’s second largest city on a merger control matter, and act for clients in litigation against Altstoff Recycling, which has alleged its competitor abused dominance in the market for commercial packaging waste. Reidlinger is also acting for Interseroh in an EU abuse of dominance proceeding against ARA, and provides competition advice to the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation on a number of ongoing projects. He is counsel to Büromöbel in merger control proceedings, and represents Holding Graz, Reclay and ORF in other matters. The rest of the team’s work is confidential.

Bernt Elsner leads the competition team at CMS REICH-ROHRWIG HAINZ and works alongside counsel Dieter Zandler and three associates on a broad range of competition work. Although Elsner is perhaps equally or better known for his public procurement practice, the firm’s competition work has picked up in the past few years. He says his team is organised so as to be able to advise clients on a Europe-wide basis. They act on a suite of cases concerning international merger control, cartels and state aid, and also have an ongoing abuse of dominance investigation. The team advised Axpo International in its acquisition of Wolkswing, and worked with colleagues in Hamburg, Spain, Russia and Lisbon to advise Meda AB in its buy-up of Italian company Rottapharm. They also recently provided antitrust advice to an internet company and an electronic consumer goods company, as well as Swissport, Johnson & Johnson, Atlas Copco and Scholz Group, among others.

Bernhard Kofler-Senoner established the competition practice at CERHA HEMPEL SPIEGELFELD HLAWATI (CHSH) in 2006, and has built up the firm’s antitrust brand ever since. He works alongside two of the firm’s partners, three senior attorneys and four associates, all of whom do competition work. CHSH entered their competitors’ radars in the past few years and have a roster of important matters: they recently litigated four antitrust cases before the EU’s General Court and Court of Justice; advised Strabag in a joint venture with Lafarge that received unconditional clearance at Phase II; and represented Spar in cartel litigation. The team also acted for Spar before the Cartel Court, which sanctioned the supermarket operator €10.21 million in August 2016 for coordinating prices with suppliers. Most impressively, the team advised Telekom Austria in its acquisition of Yesss! from Orange, a side deal to the four-to-three merger between the mobile network operator Orange and rival CK Hutchison. Kofler-Senoner has also built up a leading state aid practice in Vienna. While his practice had initially budded from referrals from the firm’s corporate group, it is now self-standing – and on the rise.

This year, DORDA BRUGGER JORDIS has slid down GCR’s rankings from its former “highly recommended” status. Stephan Polster, the firm’s former competition practice head and then-sole competition partner, left in 2015 to set up his own practice. Rising star Heinrich Kühnert, who was formerly a junior partner at bpv Hügel and is a Freshfields alumnus, has since joined the firm to lead the team. Junior partner Lars Maritzen, of counsel Elisabeth König – who until 2013 practised competition and telecoms law in Madrid – and two associates now make up the practice group’s solid reputation. Together, they have a steady stream of merger control work that comes from the firm’s bustling corporate practice. They also act on a broad range of other antitrust matters, some of which are high-profile yet confidential. Recently, the team advised the Austrian Red Cross in a Phase II merger investigation when the company acquired another ambulance operator; and acted for Austrian do-it-yourself provider bauMax in merger control proceedings when it was acquired by chain OBI. Dorda represents a client in an ongoing antitrust investigation by the Austrian enforcer, and a client operating in the electronic retailing sector in a separate probe. The team also regularly advises clients in a breadth of sectors, and is particularly strong in pharmaceuticals, life sciences, automotive, telecoms, energy and electronics.

STARLINGER MAYER is a new entrant in GCR’s rankings, and its competition group is led by name partner Christian Mayer – who was formerly the competition head at Fiebinger Polak Leon and also part of the competition team at Dorda Brugger Jordis. Competitors have only praise for Mayer, whose team also includes contract partner Moritz Am Ende and two senior associates. Together they act for clients operating across sectors in a lengthy list of ongoing antitrust investigations and merger control proceedings – all of which are confidential. Recently, they advised the Association of Austrian Hoteliers on price parity clauses used by online booking platforms, and energy company Salzburg AG in a dispute on a long-term gas-storage contract. Mayer has also acted for Montana Tech Components Group, Let’s Print Holding, VR Equitypartner and BIP Investment Partners in merger control proceedings.

The competition scene in Vienna offers a good mix of self-standing practices that attract their own clients, boutique firms, and groups that rely on the steady stream of work from their firms’ corporate practices.

Firm

Head(s) of competition

Size

Who's Who Nominees

Clients

Elite

Binder Grösswang

Raoul Hoffer

3 partner

1 counsel

1 attorney at law

5 associates

Raoul Hoffer

Johannes Barbist

Isabelle Innerhofer

City of Vienna, Novomatic, Lidl, Lenzing, Coca-Cola, HBC Austria, UniCredit Bank Austria, ÖBB Infrastruktur, Voestalpine ORF

bpv Hügel

Astrid Ablasser-Neuhuber

5 partners

2 junior associates

4 associates

Astrid Ablasser-Neuhuber

Florian Neumayr

Axel Springer, Telekom Austria, IKEA, OMV, Cemex, Colgate-Palmolive, BP Europa

Eisenberger & Herzog

Dieter Thalhammer

4 partners

7 associates

Dieter Thalhammer

Andreas Zellhofer

EconGas, EQT, Energie Burgenland, Faerch Plast, Honda, Microsoft, Volvo Trucks, Asamer

Schönherr

Franz Urlesberger

4 partners

1 counsel

4 associates

Franz Urlesberger

Hanno Wollmann

Volker Weiss

Christoph Haid

KONE, Heineken/Brau Union, OMV, REWE, Mondi, Agrana, Red Bull, Alstoff Recycling,

Wolf Theiss

Günter Bauer

2 partners

2 senior associates

4 associates

Günter Bauer

Jochen Anweiler

Advent, OBI, Sportradar, Post AG, General Electric, Makita, Bertelsmann, Bombardier, Clariant, HRS

Highly Recommended

Baker & McKenzie

Andreas Traugott

3 partners

6 associates

Andreas Traugott

Schindler, PayLife Bank, Daimler, KABA Holding, Verbund, Nafta, Merck, EDF Group

Barnert Egermann Illigasch

Isabella Hartung

1 partner

2 associates

Isabella Hartung

ASFINAG, Gebrüder Weiss, PORR, Arow Electronics, Continental AG, Panalpina

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Thomas Lübbig

1 partner

2 senior associates

2 associates

Thomas Lübbig

Wincor Nixodorf, ThyssenKrupp, IPIC, Greenyard Foods, Japan Tobacco, XING AG, Deutsche Bahn, E.ON

Reidlinger Schatzmann

Axel Reidlinger

1 partner

2 associates

Axel Reidlinger

Holding Graz, Reclay, Interseroh, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, Svoboda Büromöbel

Recommended

CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz

Bernt Elsner

1 partner

1 counsel

3 associates

None

Axpo International, Swissport, Johnson & Johnson, Atlas Copco, CRH Inc, KS Kolbenschmidt, Scholz Group

Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati

Bernhard Kofler-Senoner

3 partners

3 senior attorneys

4 associates

None

Telekom Austria, SPAR Group, Strabag SE, Immofinanz AG, SES Spar European Shopping Centres, Samsung Electronics, Hewlett-Packard, ÖBIB

Dorda Brugger Jordis

Heinrich Kühnert

1 partner

1 of counsel

1 junior partner

2 associates

None

Austrian Red Cross, L'Oréal, Donau Chemie, Moët Hennessy, Sony, Miba, Ligier, BauMax

Starlinger Mayer

Christian Mayer

2 partners

2 senior associates

None

Association of Austrian Hoteliers, Montana Tech Components Group, Salzburg AG, Let's Print Holding, VR Equity Partners, BIP Investment

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