New report: “Green, pave the way for Social!”

A new UNI Europa report argues that the EU Commission has made great strides in green public procurement — and it should now apply these lessons to social public procurement, too.

New report: “Green, pave the way for Social!”

In her 2023 State of the Union address, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged the importance of protecting the European social model: “We are for competition, but not for the race to the bottom!” she said. Surely, this should not only count for certain industries, but also for the people in the EU working on public contracts; people who today are living examples of the unpaid, underpaid or exploited workers. While her address fell short of concrete proposals for the improvement of workers’ lives, now is the time for von der Leyen to show that the Commission puts money where its mouth is. 

To do so, the Commission does not have to reinvent the wheel. As a UNI Europa report released today argues, several green Commission proposals hold important lessons that can be used to support working people across Europe. The EU Commission has made laudable progress in ensuring that public money supports the green transition.  

Among these lessons are:  

  1. the acknowledgement that a voluntary approach is not sufficient.  
  2. there are several ways to enable mandatory criteria in public procurement (such as obligatory inclusion of a set of award criteria related to green procurement; obligatory result requirements by percentage by a set date; and mandatory criteria set by Delegated Acts by the European Commission).  
  3. that if Green Public Procurement can achieve significant advancements in obligatory environmental criteria, the same is possible for socially responsible public procurement (SRPP).
  4. that any argument against the introduction of mandatory criteria, for instance in the public procurement directives, with reason that this brings about bureaucratic obstacles is rendered invalid. 

These are valuable lessons and a significant step forward for green public procurement. So far, however, it has failed to demonstrate similar ambition in procuring decent jobs – and turn the transition into a just transition for Europe’s workers.  

A huge opportunity – Green, pave the way for social 

It is wonderful to see the Commission take progressive steps on green mandatory criteria. Now it is time for the Commission to apply these valuable lessons to enable decent work for the Europe’s workers by means of collective agreement.”  – Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary, UNI Europa 

At UNI Europa, we believe that by drawing the lessons from green procurement and applying them to social procurement, the Commission can also show that climate action and working conditions are not diametrically opposed, but instead synergetic. At a time when the cost-of-living and societal polarisation increase across Europe, this would be an important message to all European citizens. 

Europe’s current public procurement rules incentivise companies to undercut each other on working conditions. These cuts are made on workers’ pay and conditions, putting many of them far below living wages as well as safe staffing levels or sufficient health and safety equipment. This is simply not the type of competition we should be rewarding. There are several examples of the unpaid, underpaid or exploited workers on public contracts. To change this, the EU needs to reform the 2014 public procurement directive to include mandatory social criteria and avoid that public money is being spent on a race to the bottom. Utilising this money to guarantee decent labour practices, working conditions, and decent quality of services would go a long way in strengthening Social Europe at a time of rising living costs. The reform would be simple: demand that bidding contractors have collective agreements in place, respect fundamental labour rights and workers’ say at work. The Commission has revised multiple directives to include strong and ambitious green public procurement. There is no reason why this can’t be done for social public procurement, too. 

We cannot bypass the opportunity to apply public money to ensure decent work, decent quality of services and a decent planet.  

Read the full report below: 

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You can also read the Executive Summary or the report without technical analysis.

Legislative procedure note:  

The review of the public procurement directive is long overdue. The review report that could propose a legal act to revise the public procurement directive was scheduled for 2019. This was postponed until 2021. In 2021, the European Commission further postponed the process until 2024 in its response that it will take the experts’ three years to prepare the review report of the public procurement directive. 

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