3 more instalments in the Evropaïki Dynamiki saga: one successful appeal (T-638/11)

Today, the General Court has issued three Judgments that add to the 'Evropaïki Dynamiki saga'. In two of them (T-474/10 and T-457/10), the famous challenger of EU Institutions' procurement decisions has lost the appeals and been condemned to bear the costs. Generally, none of this two cases raises signifcantly new issues (although one touches upon a complicated aspect of the prevention of fraud and corruption where a holding company of one of the members of the consortium was involved) and the GC is concerned once (actually, twice) more with the duties to state reasons and the contours of the manifest error of assessment of contracting authorities when they assess tenders and award contracts. However, in a third case (T-638/11 European Dynamics Belgium and Others v EMA), the appellant has been successful.
In the 'successful' case, the GC quashes EMA's decision on the basis of the poor explanations provided in the debriefing following the assessment of the tenders from a technical perspective. The GC finds that the reasons provided do not allow participating tenderers to understand the marks obtained for their technical proposals and make them unable to compare their assessment against that of the awardee (since the feedback received was vague and of a general nature).
Moreover, and maybe more interestingly, the GC engages in an analysis of the degree of disclosure that contracting authorities must ensure where there have been doubts as to the existence of an abnormally low tender. In the case at hand, the winning consortium had been requested to provide additional explanations and to justify that its tender was not abnormally low. The contracting authority was satisfied with those clarifications and proceeded to award the contract in those (not abnormally low) terms. The appellant sought to have access to those explanations and justifications in order to challenge the decision to finally award the contract to that particular consortium. However, the contracting authority had declined to disclose that information on the basis that it constituted a business secret of the winning tenderer.

The GC threads quite lightly and tries to establish an intermediate solution by stressing that:
In addition, EMA argues that by providing detailed information on compliance with the regulations for the protection of workers and working conditions or about the particular economy of the services offered by the consortium S., it would damage the legitimate commercial interests of the latter. However, to require the contracting authority to disclose the grounds upon which it has decided that an offer should not be considered abnormally low does not require it to disclose detailed information on the technical and financial aspects of the offer, such as the prices offered, the resources available to the contractor or the ways in which the successful bidder proposes to provide the services it offers. In order to provide sufficient motivation for this aspect of the tender, the contracting authority shall state the reasoning which led it to conclude that, on the one hand , given its main financial characteristics, such offer is in compliance with the laws of the country in which the services should be performed for staff salaries, contribution to social security and standards of safety and health at work; and, secondly, that it was verified that the proposed prices integrated all the costs generated by the technical aspects of the successful tender (T-638/11 at para 68, own translation from French).
Therefore, the GC does require some kind of 'high level' explanation as to why the contracting authority has been finally satisfied that the offer retained is not abnormally low, but always provided that it protects the confidentiality of the specific details that should remain under business secrecy. Surely, the test envisaged by the GC is not very clearly delineated and requires some further precision, but it is yet another push for the disclosure of information that may make tenderers reluctant to provide very specific information when they are being investigated for having submitted an apparently abnormally low offer (given that, even at some high level, certain information may still be commercial sensitive). I hope that future case law will offer more specific guidance as to how to strike this difficult balance.