In his Opinion of 10 April 2014 in case C-19/13 Fastweb, Advocate General Bot has proposed an interpretation of Art 2d(4) of Directive 89/665 (as amended by dir 2007/66) that would seriously erode the safe harbour (apparently) created by that provision for contracts that have been directly awarded by the contracting authority (without competition), provided that the following cummulative conditions are met:
— the contracting authority considers that the award of a contract without prior publication of a contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union is permissible in accordance with Directive 2004/18/EC,
— the contracting authority has published in the Official Journal of the European Union a notice (...) expressing its intention to conclude the contract, and,
— the contract has not been concluded before the expiry of a period of at least 10 calendar days with effect from the day following the date of the publication of this notice (emphasis added).
The key element of his Opinion is, in my view, his interpretation of the extent to which the discretion of the contracting authority in 'considering' that it can avail itself from the possibility to award a contract without prior publication of a contract notice is subject to judicial review. A literal reading of the provision seems to indicate that the standard of review is very low (if not inexistent) and that, provided the transparency requirement and standstill period are respected, the directly awarded contract cannot be declared ineffective--leaving the challenging tenderer with the only option of seeking compensation for damages.
However, AG Bot argues that this would create a paradox and opposes such a literal interpretation of the provision, subjecting that exercise of discretion to effective (full) judicial review. As AG Bot argues,
74. Indeed, it should be noted that Directive 89/665 is specifically designed to increase the guarantees of transparency and non-discrimination in the context of procedures for the award of public contracts so that the injured economic operator receives complete legal protection. Moreover, it should also be remembered that the European Union legislature opted to strengthen in Directive 2007/ 66 the effectiveness of review procedures to combat the illegal direct award of public contracts and to protect potential tenderers against the arbitrariness of the contracting authority.
75 . Secondly, [if the judgment made by the contracting authority was not open to judicial review], in these circumstances, the contracting authority [would be allowed] to directly award a contract in contravention of the requirements laid down in Directive 2004/18, by serving minimum formalities and exposing itself to a minimum punishment, giving rise to potential abuses of the rights thereby recognized (AG Bot in C-19/13, at paras 74-75, own translation from Spanish and references omitted).
Further, AG Bot considers that
One must not lose sight of the dact that the maintenance of the effects of the contract provided for in Article 2d paragraph 4 of Directive 89/665 is based on the good faith of the contracting authority and seeks to preserve legal certainty for the contracting parties. The European Union legislature expressly recognized this in the twenty-sixth recital of Directive 2007/66, by insisting on the need to "avoid legal uncertainty which may result from ineffectiveness" of the contract. In addition, the Court has expressly admitted this in the judgment in Commission / Germany [EU:C:2007:432, para 33] (AG Bot in C-19/13, at para 82, own translation from Spanish and emphasis added).
In view of these (and other) considerations, AG Bot proposes that the CJEU interprets that
Article 2d , paragraph 4 of Council Directive 89/665 (...) read in the light of the principle of equal treatment and the right to effective judicial protection, must be interpreted as not precluding that a Member State grants the body responsible for appeal proceedings the freedom to appreciate the extent to which a contract awarded without prior publication of a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union must be declared ineffective when it finds that, despite the publication in the Official Journal of the European Union of a notice stating its intention to conclude the contract and the observance of a minimum standstill period of ten days, the contracting authority has violated in a deliberate and intentional way the advertising standards and the requirements of opening up to competition laid down in Directive 2004/18 (own translation from Spanish, emphasis added).
Basically, AG Bot argues against an automatic exclusion of the possibility to declare contracts ineffective under Art 2d(4) of Directive 89/665 and advocates for an extension of the scope of judicial review in order to assess whether contracting authorities acted in good faith. In my view, this potential development in the interpretation of EU procurement rules is troubling because it points towards a tendency to include subjective assessments in procurement review procedures (see Art 18 Directive 2014/24) and departs from the standards of judicial review: manifest error in law or in fact, and abuse of power/procedure.
The same result [ie inapplicability of the safe harbour of art 2d(4) of dir 89/665] could be achieved by simply stating that the first condition (that is, that the contracting authority considers that the award of a contract without prior publication is permissible in accordance with Directive 2004/18) is subject to that 'consideration' not being manifestly incorrect in law or in fact, or that the contracting authority has not abused its powers in the award of the contract.
I would prefer the CJEU to rule in that regard without embarking on analyses related to the good faith or otherwise of the contracting authority. Let's hope that the final judgment in the Fastweb case does not open the door to a myriad of complications in order to determine such type of subjective elements.