Brussels, 4 November 2013
Joint press release from Commissioner Barnier and Kris Peeters, Minister-President of the Government of the Flemish Region, concerning the Oosterweel project (completion of the Antwerp Ring)
Commissioner Barnier and the Minister-President of the Flemish Region, Kris Peeters, met today (4 November 2013) in Brussels. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss EU public procurement law questions arising in connection with the Oosterweel project, the object of which is to complete the Antwerp Ring, and more specifically:
• the Flemish Authority’s query concerning the intention to award a concession, without market consultation, to SA Tunnel Liefkenshoek with a view to the construction and operation by SA Tunnel Liefkenshoek of a new link from the River Scheldt to Antwerp;
• the suspended notification from the Flemish Authority to the European Commission Directorate-General responsible for State aid of the intention to pursue negotiations relating to the “Scheldt Tunnel” strand with the Noriant consortium, which emerged from the tendering procedure as the preferred tenderer.
On the first point, Commissioner Barnier informed Minister-President Peeters that, based on the information provided by the Flemish authorities, the circumstances and manner in which the Flemish authorities intend to award a public works concession contract directly to Tunnel Liefkenshoek (TLH) for the financing, construction, management and operation of the structures under the project are unlikely to give rise to problems of compatibility with European public procurement law.
The Flemish authorities asked the Commission to look at whether the conditions under which they intended to award this concession contract directly to TLH were compatible with European law. Following a study of the information provided by the Flemish authorities and the replies to the Commission’s requests for clarification, it appeared at first sight that the legal and institutional context in which the contract was to be awarded was unlikely to give rise to problems of compatibility with European public procurement law.
Concerning the second point, at the request of the Flemish authorities the Commissioner and the Minister-President agreed that the Commission would not express an opinion on the awarding of the public works contract for the links to be built on the left bank of the River Scheldt and the construction of the tunnel under that river, pending in particular the approval of the results of the study of the project’s environmental impact launched by the Flemish authorities, due in January 2014. This MER plan (an environmental impact assessment study) is still on-going, which technically makes it impossible to start the work immediately.
The Flemish authorities had submitted a notification on this subject to the Commission’s competition department, in the context of State aid. The competition department has asked the Commission’s internal market department for an opinion. At the request of the Flemish authorities, this notification remains suspended, with a view to clarification of the aspects linked to public procurement law.
Both the European Commission and the Flemish Government regard the Oosterweel link as an essential factor in facilitating mobility across Europe, for both goods and people. An early increase in the capacity for crossing the Scheldt is therefore in the general interest. This is emphasised by the restoration of the link to the European network TEN-T.
In a statement at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Barnier said that: “We have today reached an important stage in this matter. On the basis of the information received by my department, I have been able to confirm to the Minister-President that the direct awarding of the contract would appear to be compatible with European law. Discussions will now continue at a technical level on the other issue involved, namely the awarding of the public works contract. For this, the Commission requires firm information on the Flemish Region’s intentions before it can issue a definitive opinion.“
Minister-President Kris Peeters stated that: “We are pleased to have established the compatibility of the direct awarding of the concession to Tunnel Liefkenshoek. This constitutes an important stage in achieving an increase in the capacity for crossing the River Scheldt, an improvement in road safety on the existing Ring, and a quicker solution to Antwerp’s traffic jams. It is hoped that the results of the MER plan will make it possible to take a further important step in the preparation of these works, which are urgent and necessary both for the Flemish and European economies and in terms of mobility in Antwerp.“