On 1 December 2021, the European Parliament committees of IMCO and ENVI held a hearing of experts about sustainable public procurement. Anna Cavazzini (Greens/EFA, Germany), IMCO Chair, opened the hearing stressing the importance of sustainable public procurement for the EU. Public procurement is a huge leverage when it comes to sustainability. The EU directive gives room to Member States to foster public procurement, but it is not mandatory. This public hearing is an opportunity to hear from the experts. Cesar Luena (S&D, Spain), on behalf of the ENVI Chair, noted that public procurement represents 5% of all payments. 14% of GDP is used by procurement authorities to buy procurement goods and services. Therefore, all tools for public procurement are powerful and we must make sure that the products are sustainable to develop a circular economy for the EU, he added.
MEPs ask the experts if reopening the directive is necessary or if the current legislation with the political will is enough. The experts answer loud and clear: reopen the public procurement directive is necessary – the voluntary approach does not work. See the compilation of answers in this video.
During the hearing, MEPs asked the panel experts whether a revision of the public procurement directive is necessary to ensure more green and social sustainable public procurement. The message from the experts is loud and clear: we need to reopen the public procurement directive – the approach of willingness dependence is not enough.
To the question of do we need to reopen the directive, the experts answered as follows:
“The answer is yes; … we can look at the public procurement directives again” said Mark Hidson, Deputy Regional Director, Global Director Sustainable Procurement, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. “The success of these instruments depended on the readiness of the public buyers to pick it up and they didn’t because it was voluntary” – he continued and said that “exclusion of companies violating environmental and labour laws could be made mandatory, it shouldn’t be voluntary.”
Marta Andhov, Associate Professor in Public Procurement Law, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen further responded: “If you [public buyers] know that you would potentially be challenged and dragged to court for this matters you will be very risk averse on how your deal with sustainable public procurement.” Ms. Andhov added that “there is more to be done if we really are serious about ensuring that we have truly sustainable public procurement in our internal market.” She concluded that “Regulatory changes are still really needed.”
Harri Kalimo, Professor, Brussels School of Governance at Vrije Universiteit Brussels was clear in what he believes is needed: “Moving from the voluntary nature of the system towards a more mandatory structure is required.”
Stéphane Arditi, Director Policy Integration and Circular Economy European environmental Bureau (EEB) said short and clear: “We cannot only rely on willingness.” and he concluded that “Dependence on willingness is not a good idea.” Mr. Arditi, elaborated on why willingness dependence is not enough: “As long as you have something that is willingness dependent, and if you don’t have the willingness or the skills, you will go to the lowest price” Because of this, with the current legislation his verdict was: “we are failing.”
Even the business representative among the experts found political will to be lacking. Morten Qvist Fog, Head of Public Procurement and State Aid Law at the Confederation of Danish Industry, BusinessEurope, answered “It is possible with the current rules to use functional criteria, however, … the use depends on political will and to my opinion the political will sometimes lacks.”
These quotes of the experts who spoke at the IMCO and ENVI Hearing underline the clear need to revise the public procurement directive if we want to reap the benefit of green and social sustainable public procurement.
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