In the first installment of our series “Bitcoin Around the World,” Ian Jackson profiles the state of the digital currency in Austria.
LONDON (InsideBitcoins) — Vienna, the capital of Austria, is a city long associated with music. Straus, Schoenberg, Schubert and Berg were all born in Vienna; Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden and Brahms were not, but chose to live there regardless.
The mighty Danube dominates, snaking its way through alpine vistas so pristine that words do not do them justice; shimmering lakes, the gentle curves of viridian hills, the toothed spires of the Carpathians and Alps are dotted with the remnants of gothic splendour, ancient farmsteads, ski lodges and pristine forest. Austria remains the postcard paradise that it always was and hopefully, always will be.
A sudden change in currency
A member of the EU since 1995 of the Eurozone since 1999, the Austrian schilling are now consigned to history, a memory in the same vein as the French Frank or the German Deutschmark. But not a faded memory, not yet; the experience of a sudden change in currency is, at least in the developed world, a uniquely European experience. Austrians abandoned centuries of tradition when they adopted the Euro, so the switch to bitcoin only has to contest with decades of convention.
The Austrian government’s position on bitcoin remains, as with most of Europe, in a state of flux. As with senior EU partner, Germany’s decision that bitcoin should be considered a ‘Unit of Account’ or in layman’s terms, a taxable commodity –Austria’s position, since parliamentary questions were first raised in July of last year, has oscillated between indifference and hostility.
Indeed, the Financial Regulatory Authority’s guidance reads like the warning sign one might find next to dangerous bodies of water; volatility, lack of statutory regulation, hacking alerts and lack of legal protection are all highlighted and topped off with a note that ‘The anonymity of Bitcoin is conducive to criminal abuse, ’ with a link to the EBA’s 2013 cyrptocurrency warning.
Yet for all the bluster, little firm legislation is in place. Bitcoin in Austria remains VAT exempt, capital gains tax on trading the currency as an asset is of course applicable, though considering the recent downward trend of the currency, that may well turn out to be a non issue. Like most member states, Austria seems reluctant to put in place hard legislation prior to an EU-wide decision being taken. Recent events at the European Court of Justice have ably demonstrated that the disagreement between the UK and Germany is anything but ephemeral; entrenched positions between the two may cause delays that make US political filibustering feel like a brief after-dinner speech.
A thriving cryptocurrency community
Politics aside, the community in Austria seems to be thriving. The capital, Vienna, sports no fewer than 20 bitcoin-friendly vendors ranging from restaurants, bistros, bars and even a school teaching computer programming to children. Meanwhile, the nation’s second city, Graz, could hardly be said to lagging behind, with 18 vendors, including apparel, apartments to rent, shiatsu massages and even Angus steaks.
The first bitcoin ATM, set up in July, was successful enough to inspire a second machine to be added in August. And of course, as with other European countries, the grass root movement is proactive and centred around social events where the fee paying members of Bitcoin Austria can gather, discuss cyrptocurrency news — and of course, spend bitcoin.
And if Austria — a country that is not quite at the heart of Europe but not far off the mark in terms of both geographical location and its place in the wider community — fails to make the kind of waves bitcoin is making in neighbouring Germany, it’s not through lack of enthusiasm. Austria is a place of serenity, a country that basks in its own beauty, considers its past and always, looks to the future with something of a knowing smile.