Austria / Constitutional Court / G44/2017 ua Booking.com v Austria

Key facts of the case: 

The applicant runs an online-booking platform at booking.com. Once a room is booked, a service agreement (Vermittlungsvertrag) enters into force, the hotel guest does not have to pay any money to the platform, only the room price. At the same time there are contracts between the platform and the hotels, and for each booking, the hotel pays a certain percentage of the room price to the platform. In the contracts until end of 2016, “vertical parity clauses” were foreseen, obliging the hotels to offer the same price on the platform as on their own online-sale systems. An amendment to the unfair competition act (Unlauterer Wettbewerbsgesetz) put these clauses on the black list of dishonest practices (unlautere Geschäftspraktiken). The laws on unfair competition and the freedom to conduct business were applied in this case. The Constitutional Court referred to Articles 7 and 140 B-VG, Articles 2, 5 and 6 StGG, §§1 and 44 UWG and Z32 of the appendix to the UWG, §§7 and 17 PreisauszeichnungsG and Art 16 CFR. 

Outcome of the case: 

The Constitutional Court found that prohibiting best price clauses in contracts between booking platforms and accomodation companies (Beherbergungsunternehmen) does not violate the freedom of the right to conduct a business and the freedom of the right to inviolability of property. In addition, the Constitutional Court came to the conclusion that an interference with the freedom to the right to conduct a business is justified in view of the public interest in securing fair or free competition. In this regard, there is no inappropriate discrimination of online booking platforms compared to other travel agencies and the legislator did not exceed his legislative scope. The Constitutional Court dismissed the appelant’s application regarding the repeal of the mentioned provisions.

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter: 

2.4.2. The asserted warranty of Art16 GRC also covers the same scope of protection in the present context (cf  VfSlg 19.909/2014 as well as VfSlg 19.972/2015). It should be noted that if a constitutionally guaranteed right - as in the present case Article 6 StGG - has the same scope as a right of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the decision of the Constitutional Court is usually based on the Austrian constitutional situation (see VfSlg 19.632 / 2012, 19.909 / 2014).

2.4.4. The guarantee of Artcile 17 CFR claimed in the application corresponds to Article 1 of the 1st Additional Protocol (cf explanations to Article 17 CFR, ABl. 2007 C303, 17).

2.5.3. In light of considerations regarding constitutionally guaranteed rights to the freedom to conduct a business and inviolability of the property, the Constitutional Court can not recognize that the contested provisions violate Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 1 of the 1st Additional Protocole to the ECHR and Article 20 and 21 CFR.

2.6. The contested provisions therefore do not infringe the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of acquisition (exercise) pursuant to Article 16 GRC, inviolability of property pursuant to Article 5 StGG, Article 1 of the 1st Additional Protocol to the ECHR and Art 17 GRC and equal treatment pursuant to Art 2 StGG, Art7 B-VG, Art14 ECHR and Art20 and 21 GRC.

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter (original language): 

2.4.2. Der ebenfalls geltend gemachten Garantie des Art 16 GRC kommt im vorliegenden Zusammenhang der gleiche Schutzumfang zu (vgl. VfSlg 19.909/2014 sowie VfSlg 19.972/2015). Dabei ist zu bemerken, dass dann, wenn ein verfassungsgesetzlich gewährleistetes Recht – wie im vorliegenden Fall Art 6 StGG – den gleichen Anwendungsbereich wie ein Recht der Grundrechte-Charta hat, die Entscheidung des Verfassungsgerichtshofs in der Regel auf Grund der österreichischen Verfassungslage erfolgt (vgl. VfSlg 19.632/2012, 19.909/2014).

2.4.4. Die im Antrag geltend gemachte Garantie des Art 17 GRC entspricht Art 1 1. ZPEMRK (vgl. die Erläuterungen zu Art 17 GRC, ABl. 2007 C303, 17).

2.5.3. Vor dem Hintergrund der dargelegten Erwägungen zu den verfassungsgesetzlich gewährleisteten Rechten auf Erwerbs(ausübungs)freiheit, auf unternehmerische Freiheit sowie auf Unverletzlichkeit des Eigentums kann der Verfassungsgerichtshof nicht erkennen, dass die angefochtenen Bestimmungen gegen Art14 EMRK iVm Art1 1. ZPEMRK bzw. gegen Art 20 und 21 GRC verstoßen.

2.6. Die angefochtenen Bestimmungen verstoßen daher nicht gegen die verfassungsgesetzlich gewährleisteten Rechte auf Erwerbs(ausübungs)freiheit gemäß Art6 StGG, auf unternehmerische Freiheit gemäß Art 16 GRC, auf Unverletzlichkeit des Eigentums gemäß Art 5 StGG, Art 1 1. ZPEMRK und Art 17 GRC sowie auf Gleichbehandlung gemäß Art 2 StGG, Art 7 B-VG, Art 14 EMRK sowie Art 20 und 21 GRC.

 

Language: 
German
Deciding body (original language): 
Verfassungsgerichtshof (VfGH)
Language: 
German