Tobias Gosch and Venus Valentina Wong have excellent overview of T v O (why o why do States feel the need the hide the identity of companies in commercial litigation) in which the Austrian Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof) ruled on whether potential claims under the Austrian Commercial Agents Act (Handelsvertretergesetz) can be brought before an Austrian court even if the underlying agency agreement contains an arbitration clause and is governed by the laws of New York.
The contested part of the litigation, as Tobias writes, concerns the following: the Agent conducted the procurement of sea freight business in Austria and other countries of the European Union for the Principal. Whilst the territorial scope of the Agent’s activities complies with the conditions for the international overriding mandatory applicability of the compensation provisions of the Directive as set out by the ECJ in Ingmar, the procurement of business is not covered by the relevant definition in the Directive, which only refers to the sale or purchase of goods. Including the procurement of business therefore is a form of gold-plating and the national law’s decision to do so does not uncontestedly fall under the protection of overriding mandatory law. In other words it does not necessarily override parties’ choice of law and ensuing choice of court.
The judgment refers inter alia to Unamar to justify its direction. Rather like, as I reported at the time, the Belgian Supreme Court, the Austrian Supreme Court, too, fails properly to assess whether the Austrian legislator intended the Austrian provisions to be of overriding mandatory law character per Rome I: “1. Overriding mandatory provisions are provisions the respect for which is regarded as crucial by a country for safeguarding its public interests, such as its political, social or economic organisation, to such an extent that they are applicable to any situation falling within their scope, irrespective of the law otherwise applicable to the contract under this Regulation.
The European Court of Justice’s general statement in Unamar that gold-plated provisions may fall under overriding mandatory law, looks set by national courts to be turned into a matter of fact priority. That surely at some point ought to be disciplined by the CJEU.
As Valentina points out, the judgment betrays lack of confidence in commercial arbitration. ‘It is arguable whether the arbitration agreement is really ineffective or inoperable (under Article II(3) NYC or section 584 ACCP respectively) just because it provides for arbitration in New York and New York law as applicable substantive law. A prudent arbitral tribunal seated in New York may very well be able to decide a matter in compliance with (mandatory) EU or national law on commercial agents, in particular if the future award will have to be enforced in a EU member state.’
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 188.8.131.52.