By: Albert Sánchez-Graells (How to Crack a Nut)
On 18 March 2021, the European Commission officially published its Notice on tools to fight collusion in public procurement and on guidance on how to apply the related exclusion ground (the ‘bid rigging exclusion guidance’). This document has been a long time in the making and officially announced almost four years ago, so it is no exaggeration to say that it was keenly awaited (by competition and procurement geeks like yours truly, at least).
The guidance is clearly addressed to contracting authorities — not economic operators — and is distinctly ‘pro exclusion’ in its minimisation of the practical difficulties and legal constraints inherent in the adoption of exclusion decisions. However, even with such clearly programmatic orientation, after a first reading, I have a few thoughts that do not make for an optimistic assessment of the guidance’s likely practical impact.
Mostly, because I do not think the Commission’s bid rigging exclusion guidance provides much by way of actionable practical advice to contracting authorities—and it certainly does not really go beyond already existing guidance, such as the OECD’s 2009 guidelines for fighting bid rigging in public procurement. By contrast with more general documents e.g. the OECD guidance, the Commission’s bid rigging exclusion guidance intends to concentrate on the possibility to exclude operators engaged in the manipulation of a tender. However, it includes lenghty discussion of measures to prevent collusion, as well as complementary measures such as training and data analysis and, when it comes to the specific issues that the interpretation and application of Art 57(4)(d) of Dir 2014/24/EU generates, it is mainly restricted to setting out issues that Member States’ domestic legislation cannot do — rather than focusing on what contracting authorities can (and should) do…