What is Handelsgesetzbuch?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 January 2020
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The Handelsgesetzbuch is a collection of regulations governing the practice of commerce in Germany and is essentially Germany's commercial code. Austria has also historically used the Handelsgesetzbuch. The first version of these regulations was published in 1897 and it has been updated on numerous occasions to reflect new developments in the German business community and Germany's participation in the European Union.

Like other commercial codes worldwide, the Handelsgesetzbuch sets out standards and practices for the business community. It mandates disclosures for certain types of activities, provides directions on how to run and organize companies in compliance with the law, and exhaustively discusses accounting practices. Regulations about accounting are used to protect consumers and the general public by setting up standardized practices to ensure that companies report financial information accurately and clearly.

Updates to the regulations in the code are periodically needed to address new types of businesses, as well as changes in the business community. With the development of electronic banking and accounting systems, for example, new regulations were needed to address making such systems compliant and to provide direction on using them. Germany's involvement in the EU also resulted in changes to the Handelsgesetzbuch, as the nation was obliged to conform with EU financial regulations.


Businesses must comply with relevant sections of the Handelsgesetzbuch. Accountants are usually familiar with updates to the code concerning accounting practices and can provide their clients with information on complying with these, while people like lawyers specializing in commercial law monitor updates to the code so they can best advise their clients. Companies making compliance statements, for example, must be sure to cite the sections of the code they are referring to and must address all the concerns spelled out in the code, and attorneys can review these statements for accuracy, in addition to helping companies draft them.

Copies of the Handelsgesetzbuch can be obtained online and there are also hard copies available, along with copious scholarship discussing specific clauses and other inclusions in the code. These discussions cover a wide variety of topics from settings where lawsuits over violations of the code are appropriate to new interpretations of the law designed to address changing business practices and an evolving economic climate. The German courts may also make rulings that may have an impact on how the code is applied and enforced, making it important to follow legal disputes involving the commercial code.


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