Special Issue, April 2020

COVID-19 – Special issue No. 2

The COVID-19 pandemic has created major challenges for business. Every company is looking for ways to negotiate the crisis in the best possible way. The Austrian government and authorities will be announcing measures on an ongoing basis which are intended to support businesses in this regard.

Below we have provided a summary of the measures that have already been announced, which aim to ensure that liquidity can be maintained and compliance can be eased.

In this issue

COVID-19: Liquidity measures of the Austrian Ministry of Finance, social insurance providers, and other authorities
by Mario Wegner, Evelyn Kappel, Daniela Meßner and Ines Hofbauer-Steffel

COVID-19: Measures to facilitate tax assessment and appeal procedures (deadlines)
by Mario Wegner and Ines Hofbauer-Steffel 

COVID-19: VAT consequences
by Anna Menheere

COVID-19: Update on the cash register reporting obligation
by Nicole Kruckenfellner

COVID-19: Austrian Tobacco Tax Act
by Alexandra Hainz

COVID-19: Consequences for customs
by Alexandra Hainz

COVID-19: Subsidies and support measures for companies
by Cornelia Kalina, Margarete Kinz, Daniela Stastny, Alexandra Velic

1. COVID-19: Liquidity measures of the Austrian Ministry of Finance, social insurance providers, and other authorities

The Austrian Ministry of Finance (BMF) has introduced facilitations for tax payments, which will relieve the liquidity situation of taxpayers affected by the coronavirus epidemic. Taxpayers need to credibly demonstrate that the measures introduced by the authorities (stay-at-home policies, as well as the closure of educational institutions, cancellation of events, and general restrictions on daily life) have caused liquidity shortfalls. Further facilitations are envisaged by the Austrian Social Security Institution for the Self-Employed (SVS) and the Austrian Health Insurance Fund (ÖGK), as well as the Austrian federal states, municipalities and professional organisations.

1.1 Measures of the Austrian Ministry of Finance (BMF)

Reduction/non-assessment of pre-payments of IT and CIT

Pre-payments of income tax and corporate income tax that have already been assessed can be reduced (to EUR 0.00 if necessary). The precondition is that a reduction of the anticipated tax base for 2020 can be made credible based on the specific circumstances.

If the taxpayer is affected to such an extent that he cannot pay the reduced amount, the tax authorities are able to waive advance payments (partially or completely) on application.

If the deferred income tax or corporate income tax assessments for 2020 later result in an additional tax claim due to a previous non-assessment or reduction of pre-payments, the tax office has a duty to refrain from charging “claim interest”.

Deferral of payments and payment plans

If the taxpayer has been affected, the tax authorities are required to approve the deferral of tax payments, or payment in instalments, on application. A deferral of payment or a payment plan (due to COVID-19) may be granted until 30 September 2020 at the latest. If additional reasons exist, additional facilitations may be granted on application. On application, deferral interest will not be charged until 30 September 2020.

Surcharge for late payment

The surcharge for late payment may be reduced or not charged on request. If a taxpayer is affected and can demonstrate this, the authority must assume that no gross negligence caused the delay of payment. Such requests are therefore to be approved.

Processing by the Tax Office

The above-mentioned applications (reduction, non-assessment, facilitation) must be processed by the competent tax offices without delay.

For all of the above-mentioned measures, a combined application form is available (“Kombinierter Antrag zu Sonderregelungen betreffend Coronavirus” Form SR1-CoV). According to BMF information, the application may be submitted either via FinanzOnline or by email to corona@bmf.gv.at. However, for procedural reasons, it is not advisable to submit the application by email. This is because, in accordance with the Austrian Federal Fiscal Code (BAO), email does not constitute a valid form of submission. Taxpayers who are represented for tax purposes should submit the applications using the structured application forms in FinanzOnline to ensure fast and efficient processing by the tax office. PwC is happy to assist.

Link to the BMF information of 24 March 2020

Exemption from stamp duty

No stamp duty will be charged for official documents and acts which result directly or indirectly from the measures to combat the COVID-19 crisis. This is intended to ensure that no stamp duty or federal administrative levies are charged, e.g. for applications for support payments under the Austrian Epidemic Act. The exemption will apply for the period 1 March 2020 to 31 December 2020 and should cover both future and ongoing proceedings at the time the provision enters into force.

1.2. Measures of the Austrian Social Security Institution for the Self-Employed (SVS)

The Austrian Social Security Institution for the Self-Employed (SVS) has introduced the following simplification measures for those covered by SVS insurance:

  • Deferral of payment of contributions
  • Payment of contributions in instalments
  • Reduction of preliminary calculation base for contributions
  • Full or partial relief on late-payment interest

Applications for reduction of the preliminary calculation base for contributions can be submitted using the online form “Anpassung (Herabsetzung, Hinaufsetzung) der vorläufigen Beitragsgrundlage”, which can be found on the site svs.at/formulare.

Applications for the other measures can be submitted using the online form “Allgemeiner Antrag” on the site svs.at/formulare.

1.3. Measures of the Austrian Health Insurance Fund (ÖGK)

The Austrian Health Insurance Fund (ÖGK) has introduced the following simplification measures for employers in the event of notification delays and payment difficulties arising due to the COVID-19 emergency measures:

  • Relief from late payment surcharge in the case of notification delays due to COVID-19.
  • Deferral of a maximum of three months due to liquidity shortfalls as a result of COVID-19.
  • Approval of payment by instalment for a maximum period of 18 months, due to liquidity shortfalls as a result of COVID-19
  • Suspension of enforcement measures  and insolvency applications, even without assurances of a connection to COVID-19-related liquidity shortfalls

Currently, to submit an application, it is necessary to contact the responsible Single Point of Contact (SPOC) at the ÖGK by telephone or by email. The Single Point of Contact is normally the regional office for the company’s domicile (Austrian federal state). The ÖGK published an information letter on this in the context of the organizational changes at the beginning of the year. According to ÖGK information, the Call Center is available to deal with such queries.

Update of 23 March 2020:

The second COVID-19 Act, announced on 21 March 2020 (BGBl I 2020/16), now provides numerous clarifications, which also cover measures regarding statutory contributions:

Whether the interest exemption for deferred payments of social security contributions, and of contributions pursuant to the Corporate Employee and Self-Employed Pension Act (BMSVG), is granted automatically or only on application, depends on whether the company has been affected by an access prohibition or restrictions and closures under the Epidemic Act. In accordance with the Austrian directive on preliminary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (BGBl II 2020/96), businesses in the former category include retailers and service providers, as well as leisure and sport companies (with certain exceptions, such as pharmacies, grocery stores, and drugstores). If businesses have been affected by these restrictions, the contributions for the contribution periods February, March and April 2020 will be deferred without any need for action. For all other businesses, the social security contributions for these months can be deferred on application, if it can be made credible that the contributions cannot be paid for liquidity reasons arising due to the coronavirus pandemic. The regional service desk of the ÖGK is responsible for applications of this kind; no special requirements regarding form need to be observed (telephone or email).

It remains the case that overdue contributions for the calendar months March, April and May 2020 will not be pursued, and no applications for the initiation of insolvency procedures due to non-payment of overdue contributions will be made. Furthermore, until May 2020, no late payment surcharges will be charged.

If the coronavirus pandemic is prolonged, the measures may be extended by government directive by up to three calendar months or contribution periods.

These facilitations also apply to the collection of the “bad weather contributions”, the Austrian Chamber of Labour levy, the insolvency fund (IESG) surcharge, and the contribution to the social and vocational training fund.

1.4. Additional facilitating measures

  • Various Austrian federal states and municipalities have announced additional facilitations with regard to the municipality tax, land tax, sewer tax, or tourism contribution. We recommend evaluating these measures individually.
  • Several Austrian “Chambers” (including the Economic Chamber and Medical Chamber) have also introduced measures for their membership. The Vienna Economic Chamber has announced that it will not charge the basic levy (Grundumlage) for 2020. Furthermore, it is possible to apply for deferral or payment by instalment of the Chamber levy (KU) and the surcharge to the employer contribution (DZ), as well as non-assessment of interest for late payment.

by Mario Wegner, Evelyn Kappel, Daniela Meßner, Ines Hofbauer-Steffel

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2. COVID-19: Measures to facilitate tax assessment and appeal procedures (deadlines)

In the following, we provide an overview of the implications of the 2nd Austrian COVID-19 Act and the latest BMF information for tax assessment and appeal procedures (deadlines).

This entry was last updated on 25 March 2020 and includes the latest information available to us.

2.1. Tax return deadlines

Annual tax returns

Generally, tax returns (e.g. income tax, corporate income tax, annual VAT) must be submitted by 30 June of the following year (if submitted electronically).

The tax authorities may extend the deadline (discretionary decision) for the submission of tax returns on a case-by-case basis (extension of an individual deadline). If the deadline extension is not granted, an additional deadline of at least one week must be set.

If a taxpayer is represented for tax purposes, the taxpayer can make use of the so-called quota system (“Quotenregelung”). In this case, the tax returns must be submitted by 31 March of the second following year at the latest. If this deadline cannot be met, the provisions described above on the “extension of an individual deadline” apply.

BMF information of 24 March 2020

The deadline to submit tax returns for 2019 for tax payers that are not represented for tax purpose will be extended until 31 August 2020.

KSW information of 20 March and 23 March 2020

The deadline to submit tax returns for 2018 for tax payers that are represented for tax purpose (and the quota system is therefore applicable) is also extended until 31 August 2020.

2.2. Monthly VAT returns

Monthly VAT returns must be submitted by the 15th of the second following calendar month.

The deadline for submitting monthly VAT returns may also be extended, as monthly VAT returns count as tax returns. Here, too, the decision on whether to grant the extension of the deadline is at the discretion of the tax authority.

No general extension of the deadline to submit monthly tax returns is envisaged. Due to the current situation, any discretionary decision in this regard ought to favour the taxpayer.

BMF information of 24 March 2020

If annual tax returns or monthly VAT returns are nevertheless submitted late, no surcharge for late filing will result if the late filing takes place before 1 September 2020.

2.3. Deadline for Appeals

Ordinary appeal

The deadline for submission of an ordinary appeal (appeal against assessment notice) is one month from delivery of the assessment notice which is being contested.

The deadline for appeal must be extended (not a discretionary decision) in extenuating circumstances on application, and repeatedly if required.

2nd Austrian COVID-19 Act

Appeal periods which commence after 16 March 2020 (delivery of assessment notice) and appeal periods which have not expired as at 16 March 2020 will all be discontinued until 30 April 2020. The appeal periods will then re-commence on 1 May 2020 in full length. This also covers requests for submission to the Austrian Tax Court (Vorlageantrag) and complaints against measures (Maßnahmenbeschwerden).

This also applies to deadlines in tax criminal proceedings (e.g. appeal, objection).

Similar provisions apply for the six-week period to file a revision with the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court (VwGH) and the deadline for appeals with the Austrian Supreme Constitutional Court (VfGH). Deadlines which have not expired as at 22 March 2020 (entry into force of 2nd COVID-19 Act), or which commence after this date, will be discontinued until 30 April 2020 and will re-commence in full length from 1 May 2020.

Deadline for applications under Section 299 Austrian Federal Fiscal Code (BAO)

The deadline of one year from delivery to apply for the revocation or amendment of a tax assessment notice is an absolute deadline. It cannot be extended and must therefore be observed.

Although information provided on the BMF’s homepage last week stated that the one-year deadline for annulment or amendment would be suspended, no provisions in the law which has entered into force give grounds for a suspension of this deadline. Even though the suspension of the annual deadline (Section 299 BAO) can be found in the legal materials relating to the 2nd COVID-19 Act, observation of the one-year deadline is urgently recommended, as it appears an editorial mistake may have been made.

2.4. Tax audits

On the instigation of the Austrian Chamber of Tax Advisors and Public Accountants (KSW), the BMF has provided informal information that due to the coronavirus crisis further facilitations of the tax authorities are planned in the area of audit and control.

According to the BMF, external audits, inspections and surveys made by the tax offices, the financial police, the customs authorities, and the audit service for wage-based taxes and contributions, will not be commenced if the company in question can credibly demonstrate that they are unable to adequately support these audit activities due to the coronavirus crisis.

Audit activities which have already started will also be suspended or interrupted for the same reasons.

These facilitations do not include investigations under tax criminal law.

by  Mario Wegner, Ines Hofbauer-Steffel

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3. COVID-19: VAT consequences

The official measures to combat coronavirus lead to questions about the VAT-related consequences of these measures. Uncollectible amounts and rent reductions for business premises during the COVID-19 crisis also need to be treated correctly from a VAT perspective.

3.1. Compensation, cancellation fees, and frustrated expenditure

Many congresses, events, concerts, trips etc. had to be cancelled due to the current COVID-19 crisis and the resulting official measures, and many contracts could not be fulfilled. From a VAT perspective, questions arise regarding the treatment of obligatory payments, and whether there is a right to input tax deduction for frustrated expenditure.

Compensation payments may need to be made by a supplier or service provider on the basis of a contractually agreed obligation if the supply of goods or services was not possible and damages for non-performance are payable. A payment of this kind should be treated as compensation for damages, which is not subject to VAT, as there is no underlying taxable exchange of goods or services. Generally speaking, this applies both in cases of “force majeure”, e.g. in the case of cancellations due to official orders, and in cases of “precautionary” cancellations. The practical difference is that no compensation payment needs to be made in cases of force majeure. Whether a compensation payment due to non-performance constitutes VAT-taxable remuneration (where relevant, subject to mandatory VAT), or compensation for damages, which is not subject to VAT, always depends on the specific contractual agreement.

On the other hand, the recipient of the goods or service will in many cases be faced with cancellation fees and/or penalty clauses for (precautionary) cancellations at short notice of trips, flights, etc. In the current view of the Austrian authorities, fees which a recipient of goods or services has to pay due to cancellations of hotel reservations or flights at short-notice (only applies to flights within Austria, as international flights are VAT-exempt), usually constitute compensation for damages and are not subject to VAT. This would need to be verified on a case-by-case basis considering the applicable terms regarding cancellation, as CJEU case law states that payments which arise due to early termination of a contract may also be subject to a VAT obligation (e.g. for a so-called “no show”, when a flight tickets are forfeited in the absence of a passenger).

Finally, it should be noted that the right to input tax deduction applies even in relation to “frustrated expenditure”, if the supply was made for business purposes.

3.2. Uncollectible receivables

As a consequence of COVID-19, the importance of careful cash flow planning and liquidity planning has increased. Consequently, a reduction of VAT should take place immediately if receivables are actually uncollectible (if the receivable is merely doubtful, then a value adjustment is made without relevance for VAT). This must be checked on a case-by-case basis. VAT is also reduced if a supplier or service provider chooses to waive part of a payment owed. If (partial) payment is subsequently received after all, an additional payment for the previously adjusted VAT amount must be made to the tax office. In general, a VAT reduction always entails an obligation by the recipient of a supply to adjust the amount of input tax claimed.

3.3. Rent reductions for business premises

Due to the unexpected situation arising due to COVID-19, the lessee is entitled in certain cases to rent reductions or even termination of the rental contract. Please see our PwC Legal Newsletter on this topic, available here

From a VAT perspective, the ensuing rent reductions and/or increase in the vacancy rate may have consequences for the calculation of pro-rata rate of deductible input VAT of the lessor. In addition, if a rental contract is terminated and a new agreement is concluded when the circumstances are no longer given, it may no longer be possible to use the option to tax in relation to the lease.

by Anna Menheere

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4. COVID-19: Update on the cash register reporting obligation

Due to current developments, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that no additional notification of the tax office is required in relation to the cash register reporting obligation, if the suspension of business activity is merely temporary (e.g. temporary closure due to the coronavirus prevention measures). For the reporting requirements regarding “removal from operation” and “outage” stipulated under Section 17 Austrian Cash Register Security Regulation (RKSV), the only circumstances of relevance are final business closures, business disposals, irreparable damage, or technical outages etc.

by Nicole Kruckenfellner

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5. COVID-19: Austrian Tobacco Tax Act

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak mean that it is now undesirable to place additional burdens on consumers and businesses by increasing the tobacco tax. The changes in tobacco tax rates for cigarettes, fine-cut tobacco, and heated tobacco products, were set out in the Austrian Tax Reform Act 2020, BGBI. I Nr. 103/2019, and were due to enter into force on 1 April 2020. The tax increase will now be postponed until 1 October 2020.

by Alexandra Hainz

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6. COVID-19: Consequences for customs

COVID-19 also has consequences for foreign trade.

This entry was updated on 23 March 2020 and reflects the information currently available to us.

Due to the worldwide crisis caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the global demand for protective medical equipment has increased significantly. In this context, the European Commission has introduced an authorisation requirement for the export of certain products (in particular, protective medical equipment) to non-EU destinations. The authorisation requirement entered into force on 15 March 2020 with Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/402. Exceptions to the authorisation requirements include exports to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, as well as certain overseas countries and territories, and exports to the Faroe Islands, Andorra, San Marino, and Vatican City (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/426 of 19 March 2020).

A national decree in Germany on foreign trade in certain goods (e.g. protective spectacles, face masks, gowns, suits, and gloves), issued on 12 March 2020, which envisaged an authorisation requirement for supplies of protective medical equipment from Germany to other EU Member States, was subsequently repealed on 19 March 2020.

by Alexandra Hainz

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7. COVID-19: Subsidies and support measures for companies

The Austrian federal government has announced and already introduced subsidies and support measures for companies due to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

This article was prepared on the basis of the information available to us on 30 March 2020.

On 14 March 2020, the Austrian government presented the COVID-19 crisis response fund amounting to EUR 4bn, which is intended to support the Austrian economy. As announced on 18 March 2020, the crisis response fund was increased to EUR 38bn.

The amount of EUR 38bn has been allocated to the following measures:

  • EUR 4bn for emergency support (e.g. in order to enable short-time working)
  • EUR 9bn for provision of guarantees (e.g. the bridging guarantee provided by Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH – aws)
  • EUR 15bn for emergency support for severely affected industries (e.g. retail, tourism, gastronomy, leisure & entertainment – guidelines for these funds are currently being developed by the BMF)
  • EUR 10bn for the deferral of taxes (e.g. deferment of corporate income tax, VAT or social security contributions).

The crisis response fund is intended to achieve three main goals:

  • Maintain jobs
  • Guarantee liquidity
  • Provide support in cases of hardship

7.1. Austria Wirtschaftsservice bridging guarantee

The Austrian government promotional bank, Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH (aws), has provided a bridging guarantee in connection with the coronavirus crisis since 12 March 2020. The goal of this support is to facilitate the financing of operating loans, as well as the financing of existing credit lines for trade and industrial SMEs (no tourism or leisure businesses), as well as individuals/companies who are self-employed in free trades and have suffered a significant decline in turnover and earnings as a result of the cancellation of orders or supplies due to the coronavirus crisis. It is expected that the aws bridging guarantee will be extended to large companies in the coming weeks.

Applications should be made by the principal bank providing the financing (or by the company itself) via the aws Funding Manager. An accelerated program has been introduced to enable rapid approval of guarantees.

Further information can be found on the following site: https://www.aws.at/aws-ueberbrueckungsgarantien/?ref=topnews


7.2. Austrian Hotel and Tourism Bank – Package of measures for tourism and leisure industries

In order to provide quick and unbureaucratic support for SMEs (expected to be extended to large businesses) in the tourism and leisure industries, a package of measures amounting to EUR 100m has been put together by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture, the Regions and Tourism (BMLRT), and the Austrian Hotel and Tourism Bank (ÖHT). The measures are intended as collateralization for bridge financing. On 27 March 2020, the BMLRT and the ÖHT announced an additional package, increasing the previous guarantee ceiling of EUR 100m to EUR 1bn.

The goal of the measures is to maintain the liquidity of companies in the tourism and leisure industries despite loss of revenue; to maintain existing jobs; to prevent insolvencies; and to ensure that businesses remain operative. The application should be made via the ÖHT online portal, exclusively in cooperation with, and following coordination with, the principal bank.

Further information can be found on the following site: https://www.oeht.at/produkte/coronavirus-massnahmenpaket-fuer-den-tourismus/

7.3. OeKB COVID-19 support

On the behalf of the BMF, the Österreichische Kontrollbank (OeKB) will provide Austrian exporters with a credit line in the amount of EUR 2bn due to the current situation. This is intended to guarantee the liquidity of domestic export businesses and ensure that jobs are maintained. Those eligible for financing are Austrian exporters (large companies and SMEs), whose supplies of goods and services do not fall under the Austrian Security Control Act and/or the Austrian War Materials Directive, and which have Austrian added value of at least 25%. Applications can be made via the principal bank of the exporter.

Further information can be found on the following site: 
https://www.oekb.at/export-services/sonder-krr-covid-hilfe.html

7.4. Hardship fund of the Austrian government

On 22 March 2020, the 2nd Austrian COVID-19 Act entered into force, which also encompasses the Hardship Fund Act. This Act enabled the Austrian government to create a hardship fund of EUR 1bn. The aim of this federal subsidy is to create a security net in cases of hardship due to the legal and economic impacts of COVID-19 on one-person companies, independent contractors (freie Dienstnehmer), non-profit organisations (NPOs), and micro-businesses.

The subsidy is provided in the form of direct grants, which are managed by the Austrian Economic Chamber on behalf of the Austrian government. A special regulation pursuant to the Hardship Fund Act and based on the Austrian SME Subsidies Act has been published. Applications can be submitted online via the website of the Austrian Economic Chamber from 27 March 2020 at 5pm until 31 December 2020.

Further information can be found on the following site:
https://www.wko.at/service/haertefall-fonds-epu-kleinunternehmen.html

7.5. City of Vienna: Support for development of IT infrastructure to enable remote working

Together with the Vienna Business Agency, the City of Vienna is providing EUR 6m of support for companies in Vienna to create remote workspaces (teleworking) and stable communications between remote workspaces and the company’s headquarters/locations. These include:

  • Measures for provision of advice by third parties
  • Intensive measures for technical IT infrastructure

The support is available to SMEs and micro-businesses in Vienna. Applications must be made to the Vienna Business Agency via the online application form from 1 March 2020 (retrospectively) until 31 December 2020.

Further information can be found on the following site:

https://wirtschaftsagentur.at/foerderungen/programme/home-office-131/

Information on other City of Vienna subsidies can be found on the following sites:

https://www.wko.at/service/w/corona-hilfe-wiener-kleinbetriebe.html

https://www.wkbg.at/buergschaftsbank-wien-kredite/

https://www.waff.at/unternehmen/arbeitsstiftungen-und-krisenmanagement/

7.6. Emergency call of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency

The Austrian Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs (BMDW) and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK) are providing EUR 21m at short notice for research and development work in connection with coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2) via the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). The support will be offered via an accelerated procedure in the context of a so-called “emergency call”. The support is provided for R&D projects of Austrian companies on coronavirus-related issues, which can be implemented within 12 months.

The support will cover all costs included in the current FFG cost framework, for example personnel costs and material costs. In the case of clinical studies, all costs related to the study (e.g. CROs, centres) are eligible for funding. The amount of funding available per project is a maximum of EUR 3m, in the form of a non-repayable grant (the amount of the cash value of the subsidy depends on the size of the company and is between 25% and 45%).

The deadline for the submission of projects is 8 April 2020 (for accelerated decisions) and 11 May 2020 (for additional applications, if not all funds have been allocated, and for funding decisions). The call will be conducted as a competition, and the FFG has promised a rapid evaluation process for both submission deadlines.

Further information can be found on the following site: https://www.ffg.at/ausschreibung/emergencycall-covid-19

by Cornelia Kalina, Margarete Kinz, Daniela Stastny, Alexandra Velic    

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Editor: Christof Wörndl, christof.woerndl@at.pwc.com

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