Some thoughts on the principle of competition's direct and indirect effects in public procurement from 18 April 2016

It was a pleasure to speak at Upphandlings Dagarna 2016 in Stockholm on the principle of competition enacted in Article 18(1) of Directive 2014/24 and Article 36(1) of Directive 2014/25 [for background reading, see here]. The recording of the livestreaming is available here (starts at 1:30, main remarks after 8:00).

One of the issues that featured prominently in the discussions with my panellists is the legal value of the principle under EU law, and how to make it effective in case Member States do not transpose it (or are late in the transposition, which will certainly be a common situation for a while). 

In my view, and in simplified terms, there are two main routes that EU law provides for the enforcement of the principle regardless of the transposition decisions the Member States adopt. Firstly, the principle can be given direct effect. And, secondly (and probably with greater practical relevance), the principle must be given indirect effect. I develop these ideas for the enforcement of the principle of competition, particularly through indirect effect or interpretation conforme, in Public Procurement and the EU Competition Rules, 2nd edn (Oxford, Hart, 2015) 215-227, available here.

Direct effect can be given to the presumption in Art 18(1) Dir 2014/24 / Art 36(1) Dir 2014/25 that 'Competition shall be considered to be artificially narrowed where the design of the procurement is made with the intention of unduly favouring or disadvantaging certain economic operators'. In my view, this provision sets out a clear, precise and unconditional individual right for candidates and tenderers not to be unduly disadvantaged, which therefore meets the requirements for direct effect as per Van Duyn (C-41/74, EU:C:1974:133). It will be particularly relevant to coordinate any legal claims with the clear push for effectiveness of the EU public procurement rules in the Remedies Directive.

Indirect effect must be given to the broad principle of competition in Art 18(1) Dir 2014/24 / Art 36(1) Dir 2014/25 that 'The design of the procurement shall not be made with the intention ... of artificially narrowing competition.' This is not only a clear general principle of EU law (which could also engage Mangold, C-144/04, EU:C:2005:709), but a fundamental pillar of the procurement system and, in particular, of the system created by the 2014 new public procurement Directives. The Commission could not have stressed this more clearly in the recent strategy for the Upgrade of the Single Market, where it highlighted that 'In 2014, the EU adopted a major overhaul of the EU procurement framework .... This was aimed at making public procurement more efficient and strategic, fulfilling the principles of transparency and competition to the benefit of both public purchasers and economic operators, in particular SMEs' (emphasis added). Overall, the obvious and pervasive pro-competitive orientation of the 2014 Directives and the explicit consolidation of the principle of competition triggers an obligation to interpret any domestic procurement rules in light of the principle of competition under as per Von Colson (C-14/83, EU:C:1984:153).

In short, even if Member States did not transpose (in time, or at all) the principle of competition in Art 18(1) Dir 2014/24 / Art 36(1) Dir 2014/25, EU law requires national administrative bodies, review bodies and courts to give it full effectiveness, both under  the direct and indirect effect doctrines. This obligation kicks in on 18 April 2016 at the latest (although arguments for an already existing obligation to do so have been on the table since, at least, 2011). This is likely to spur an initial wave of litigation likely to result in references to the CJEU for clarification of the content, meaning and extent of the principle of competition. I for one will keep a close look at these developments.