The General Court (GC) recently issued Judgment in Veloss and Attimedia v Parliament, T-667/11, EU:T:2015:5, and annulled an award decision (actually, a ranking of tenderers decision) on the basis of the European Parliament's resistance to disclose the price of the highest ranking bid to the disappointed tenderer that was ranked second.
In the GC's view, such deliberate omission of the price information requested during the debriefing phase amounts to a breach of Art 100(2) of the applicable Financial Regulation, which established that: "The contracting authority shall notify all candidates or tenderers whose
applications or tenders are rejected of the grounds on which the
decision was taken, and all tenderers whose tenders are admissible and
who make a request in writing of the characteristics and relative
advantages of the successful tender and the name of the tenderer to whom
the contract is awarded" (emphasis added).
Following its previous case law on this topic (criticised here, here, here and here), the GC shows no flexibility whatsoever and determines that
the Parliament was required to inform them of
the price offered by the successful tenderer, which was one of the
characteristics and one of the key advantages of the successful tender,
especially since, in the circumstances of the present case, that
criterion counted for 40% in the evaluation of tenders and the
applicants’ tender was the first on the list of tenderers following the
evaluation of the qualitative criteria.
That finding is not called into question by
the argument put forward by the Parliament at the hearing that the
applicants could have established the minimum price offered by one of
the tenderers and the price offered by the tenderer ranked first on the
basis of the information available to them and deducing it through
working backwards on the basis of the [award] formula
suffice it to note that it is clear from
settled case-law that, in order to comply with the obligation to state
reasons enshrined in Article 296 TFEU, the reasoning of the author of
the act must be shown clearly and unequivocally (see, to that effect,
judgments in Koyo Seiko v Council, paragraph 42 above, EU:T:1995:140, paragraph 103, and Evropaïki Dynamiki v Commission,
paragraph 42 above, EU:T:2010:101, paragraph 134). The Parliament’s
argument that the applicants could, through working backwards, have
deduced the minimum price offered by one of the tenderers and,
therefore, the price offered by the tenderer ranked first cannot be
accepted. It must be considered that, even if the applicants had made
such a deduction, they would have had no certainty regarding the correct
application of that formula and the accuracy of the result obtained.
That finding is corroborated by the Parliament’s attitude, which raised
the possibility of such a deduction being carried out only at the
hearing and not during the written procedure. (T-667/11, paras 60, 64 & 65, emphasis added).
Hence, the fact that the GC reads an obligation to explicitly disclose
the price offered by the successful tenderer and rejects an argument based on the fact that the disappointed tenderer could ascertain the relative advantage (in terms of price) on the basis of indirect information disclosed by the contracting authority (which, again, reinforces the obligation to disclose the price explicitly) is a very unwelcome development in the interpretation of Article 100(2) of the Financial Regulation (which can have a clear impact on the interpretation of Art 55 of Directive 2014/24, with further reaching consequences).
Moreover, it is shocking that there is no discussion at all about the second paragraph of Art 100(2) of the Financial Regulation, which expressly indicates that, notwithstanding the general obligation discussed above, "certain details need not be disclosed where disclosure would hinder
application of the law, would be contrary to the public interest or
would harm the legitimate business interests of public or private
undertakings or could distort fair competition between those
undertakings". This safeguard clause makes a lot of sense and their ineffective use (or its total disregard) must be lamented.
It is not clear whether the European Parliament expressly relied on this exception (from reading the Judgment, it would seem not), but it is unacceptable that the GC completely excluded such considerations in its Veloss and Attimedia Judgment. Disclosure of explicit prices can have clear negative impacts on competition and should be covered (always, or at least in the vast majority of cases, by the safeguard clause in Art 100(2) of the Financial Regulation, as well as by Art 55(3) Dir 2014/24].
Indeed, the problem of excessive pricing transparency and its negative effects for competition in public procurement markets is very important and the scholarly consensus is that transparency needs to be reduced, particularly when it comes to price signals in procurement settings [for a recent discussion, see C Estevan de Quesada, ‘Competition and transparency in public procurement markets’ (2014) 23 Public Procurement Law Review 229-244]. Consequently, the Veloss and Attimedia Judgment is a step in the wrong direction and it starts to be hard to believe that the case law on transparency can make a turn towards economic wisdom.
On a more positive note, another important point to stress focuses on the possibilistic approach adopted by the GC when it comes to deciding what sorts of procurement decisions are amenable to judicial review. In that regard, it bears some stress that the GC found that
This, the GC got right.
according to settled case-law and having
regard to the objective of effective and rapid judicial protection, in
particular by interlocutory measures, the possibility of review cannot
be subject to the fact that the public procurement procedure in question
has formally reached a particular stage. On the basis of the
consideration that compliance with the procurement rules must be ensured
in particular at a stage at which infringements can still be corrected,
it must be concluded that an expression of the will of the contracting
authority in connection with a contract, which comes in any way whatever
to the knowledge of the persons interested, is amenable to review,
provided that that expression has passed the stage of acts which
constitute a mere preliminary study of the market or are purely
preparatory and form part of the internal reflections of the contracting
authority with a view to a public award procedure and is capable of
producing legal effects (see, to that effect and by analogy, judgment of
11 January 2005 in Stadt Halle and RPL Lochau, C‑26/03, ECR, EU:C:2005:5, paragraphs 38 and 39) (T-667/11, para 47, emphasis added).