CJEU protects right to challenge public procurement decisions by non-compliant tenderers (C-100/12)

In its Judgment of 4 July 2013 in case C-100/12 Fastweb, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has strengthened the effectiveness of the public procurement remedies system by protecting the right to challenge (illegal) award decisions by tenderers that do not comply with all the (technical) requirements imposed by the tender documentation themselves.

In the case at hand, a disappointed tenderer challenged the award decision on the basis that none of the two awardees in a framework agreement complied with the technical specifications set by the contracting authority. The awardees of the contract intervened in the procedure and raised a counterclaim stating that the challenger did not comply with the technical specifications (either). Under Italian law, the counterclaim had to be analysed first and, if successful, would bar the challenge on the basis of a lack of locus standi of the disappointed tenderer (who could not have been awarded the contract anyway and, consequently, would be prevented from challenging the outcome of the procedure).

The CJEU found such an interpretation of the rules on active standing contrary to the EU public procurement remedies directives (as amended by dir 2007/66), inasmuch as 'the aim of [those directives] is to ensure that decisions made by contracting authorities in breach of European Union law can be effectively reviewed' (C-100/12 at para 25). Following a functional approach that deserves praise, the CJEU found that:
a counterclaim filed by the successful tenderer cannot bring about the dismissal of an action for review brought by a tenderer where the validity of the bid submitted by each of the operators is challenged in the course of the same proceedings and on identical grounds. In such a situation, each competitor can claim a legitimate interest in the exclusion of the bid submitted by the other, which may lead to a finding that the contracting authority is unable to select a lawful bid (C-100/12 at para 33).
Consequently, the CJEU has determined that the counterclaim concerning the locus standi of a tenderer that should have been excluded (or whose tender should have been rejected) cannot preempt the analysis of the legality of the award decision adopted by the contracting authority. 

By (implicitly) adopting such a broad interpretation of the concept of 'any person having or having had an interest in obtaining a particular contract and who has been or risks being harmed by an alleged infringement' [art 1(3) dir 2007/66], the CJEU has increased the chances of attaining effective and substantive review of the award decisions adopted by contracting authorities, regardless of the specific procedural rules within each of the EU Member States (as mandated by the principle of effectiveness of EU law) and seems to point clearly towards a principle or criterion of 'favor revisionis', so that review bodies and courts tend to assess the material conditions of award decisions, despite the presence of apparent procedural difficulties to carry out such an assessment. 

In my opinion, this is a favourable development of EU public procurement law and one that is conducive to ensuring an absence (or correction at review stage) of distortions of competition. As argued elsewhere [A Sanchez Graells, Public Procurement and the EU Competition Rules (Oxford, Hart, 2011) pp. 353-355], my view is coincidental with the approach adopted by the CJEU in that 
the best reading of the standing requirements imposed by Directive 2007/66 is that Member States have to adopt a broad approach to the setting of detailed rules regulating active standing to access bid protests and review procedures, and that they have to do so attending both to the criterion of participation in the tender, and to the criterion of the effects actually or potentially generated by the alleged infringement—so that bid protest and review procedures are open to any party that has taken part in the tender or that can otherwise prove that it has been harmed or risks being harmed as a result of the alleged infringement, regardless of its actual participation (or lack of it) in the specific tender that gave rise to it.