On 24 October, EBC President Philip van Nieuwenhuizen, EBC Secretary General Fernando Sigchos Jiménez and EBC Policy Officer Spyros Mathioudakis met with Mr. Jean-Yves Muylle, the newly appointed Head of Unit for Public Procurement at the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW), along with several officials from the Unit. The meeting took place following a previous exchange in August with Ms. Katharina Knapton-Vierlich, Mr. Muylle’s predecessor, who is now Head of Unit for Construction at DG GROW.
President van Nieuwenhuizen informed the Commission of the immediate need for guidelines from the European Commission to encourage more streamlined national support measures from Member states to help companies face the rises of materials and energy prices that have been hitting contractors across the EU. The current unlevelled and heterogeneous support measures noticed across different Member States are creating a further level playing field disruption in public bids in the Single market. Mr. Muylle confirmed that the Commission is working on European guidance towards Member states which would encourage a more streamlined approach thereof.
As a member of the current European Commission Stakeholders Expert Group on Public Procurement (SEGPP), EBC President also inquired about the future of this group, which has been put on hold by the EC. Mr. Muylle explained that the Commission is exploring how to optimally engage with stakeholders going forward.
Mr van Nieuwenhuizen noted how strategic such a pool of experts could prove to rethink public procurement. This group could prove especially important given the decline in competition currently witnessed, with too many single-bidder contracts or contract cancellations due to lack of bidders.
While participating in public tenders has always been costly for construction SMEs, the lack of skilled workers and the rigidity in adjusting contracts to market realities renders the current framework for public procurement, widely based on the cheapest bidding price, rapidly obsolete. The Commission recognized observing less offers submitted to public tenders for construction and infrastructure projects in the EU, and that it requires to identify ways to mitigate that trend.
Lastly, EBC noted the clear link between late payment and public procurement. In view of the revision of the Late Payment Directive announced during the recent State of the Union speech, EBC stressed the importance to tackle the various forms of payment delays that are observed in Public Administration to Business (PA2B) transactions across the EU. Even though the directive provides a strict deadline for PA2B payments, public buyers often resort to practices that lead to significant delays in their payments to construction SMEs. These practices have serious consequences in the current context, leading to asphyxiating conditions for SMEs that result in liquidity problems and even bankruptcies. It is therefore of central importance to ensure that the provisions of the upcoming Late Payment Directive are reflected in the Public Procurement Directive; a debate in which EBC will actively participate.
EBC looks forward to further engaging with Mr. Jean-Yves Muylle and his team, as future consultations were agreed to take stock of the various challenges ahead.