The new EU Directive on public procurement: a step forward for sustainable public procurement

A network of civil society organisations welcomes the adoption of new EU directives that allow for social and environmental criteria in public procurement and calls upon Member States to put an end to cost-centred approach.
Brussels, 15/01/2014 – The Network for Sustainable Development in Public Procurement (NSDPP) welcomes the new public procurement Directives approved today by the European Parliament. The new Directives will allow public authorities in Europe to make sustainable choices and spend taxpayer's money wisely.
The new provisions affirm that contracting authorities may introduce social and environmental considerations throughout the procurement process as long as these are linked to the subject matter of the contract. Additionally, public authorities can differentiate what they purchase on the basis of the process and production methods that are not visible in the final product. It will be easier for them to rely on labels and certifications as a means to proof compliance with the sustainability criteria they have set. Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe, a member of the NSDPP, applauds the EU Institutions for including green and social considerations in the procurement process as it will allow public authorities within the healthcare sector to give preference to bidders that offer environmentally sustainable and socially responsible goods and services, better working conditions to their workers, and who favour the integration of disabled and disadvantaged workers.
Medical equipment, such as surgical instruments, gowns or gloves used in European hospitals is often manufactured in low-income countries under poor working conditions and with the involvement of child labour. Anja Leetz, the Executive Director of HCWH Europe, comments “the impact this will have on the healthcare sector is huge – by procuring for example medical devices and equipment that do not contain hazardous chemicals or that are ethically produced, patient safety will significantly increase”.
Importantly, the right for public authorities to provide services directly was approved and concepts of ‘in-house’ and ‘public-public cooperation’ were defined. Compliance with environmental, social and labour obligations, including collective agreements, is now enshrined in the principles of this law and tenderers can be excluded in case of non-compliance. The new law also makes it easier to identify subcontractors along the supply chain - although it will be up to Members States to establish their joint liability.
Regrettably, the final text of the Directive would still allow the purchase of the cheapest option - despite objections from the NSDPP and European Parliament - subsequently adding confusion to the criteria for assessing tenders. Although life-cycle costing provisions have been improved, the social externalities cannot be taken into account in the life-cycle calculation.
In implementing the new rules, Members States should improve some of the elements left to their discretion in the new text. For instance, they can prohibit or restrict the “use of price only” criterion, and leave contracting authorities the choice between either assessing other aspects in addition to cost effectiveness, or base their purchasing decisions solely on that criterion. The NSDPP calls upon Member States to take responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of public purchasing when implementing the new Directives in their respective countries. 
The NSDPP also stresses that having a clear and enabling legal framework is not enough and needs positive measures to support its application. The Network also calls on the European institutions to take a coherent approach to sustainability in public procurement and to develop a “buy socially responsible and sustainable” strategy with targets and a monitoring and evaluation program. Ms. Leetz emphasises that it will only be “through the development of a socially responsible and sustainable strategy to effectively implement the Public Procurement Directive in the Member States, will the new Public Procurement Directive translate into more responsible and safer purchasing practices that protect human health and the environment in Europe and across the globe”.
The Network for Sustainable Development in Public Procurement (NSDPP)
The NSDPP is a European network uniting social and environmental NGOs and trade union organizations that have the joint aim to achieve progress in sustainable development through enabling EU public procurement legislation and policies.
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe
HCWH Europe is a non-profit coalition of European hospitals, healthcare systems, medical associations, healthcare professionals, local authorities and environmental and health organisations. They aim to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment.
For more information about the new Public Procurement Directive, please contact the NSDPP Coordinator, Elba Estrada at or HCWH Europe’s Anja Leetz at