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Brussels, 24 June 2010

Public procurement: Commission refers Slovakia to Court over award of legal services contract for motorway construction projects

The European Commission has today acted to ensure fair access to public contracts by referring Slovakia to the EU's Court of Justice. The Commission considers that Slovakia has breached EU public procurement rules by not opening up a contract for legal services relating to motorway construction projects to EU-wide competition. EU public procurement rules exist to ensure fair competition for public contracts in Europe, thereby creating more business opportunities for European companies while ensuring best value for public money. If the rules are not properly implemented, there is a risk of a closed market and waste of public money. The Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Slovakia in October 2009 asking it to comply with EU law. As no satisfactory reply was received, the Commission has decided to take the case to the Court.

What is the aim of the EU rule in question?

Public procurement is about how public authorities spend public money. It covers purchases of everything from coffee to computer systems, waste water plants, ship building or consulting services. Total public procurement in the EU is estimated at about 17% of the Union’s GDP. The open and transparent tendering procedures required under EU public procurement rules mean more competition, stronger safeguards against corruption, and better service and value for money for taxpayers.

How is the Slovak Republic not respecting these rules and why are citizens and business suffering as a result?

In 2007, the Slovak Ministry of Transport had prematurely terminated a public service contract on consultancy and legal services on the grounds of non-satisfactory performance of the contactor. A few weeks after the termination, it awarded a new legal services contract worth 19.6 million euros for an indefinite period to another contractor. The Slovak Government claimed that it had to use a negotiated procedure without publication due to extreme urgency and unforeseeable circumstances, i.e. the need for legal services in order to advance the construction of various motorway sections in Slovakia following the unsatisfactory services of the previous contractor. In the Commission's view, Slovakia's justifications for awarding the contract without sufficient advertising are not valid. The Commission considers that the circumstances were foreseeable and attributable to the contracting authority.

The Commission finds that by restricting access to the contract to a limited number of companies, Slovakia has excluded other interested service providers from the possibility to bid for the contract. As a result the price paid for the services is not based on full competition, which would have been to the benefit of Slovak taxpayers.

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