CoESS and UNI Europa mark 25 year anniversary of EU Social Partner Memorandum on Public Procurement

This June marks a notable jubilee in the history of CoESS and UNI Europa, as they mark the 25th anniversary of their memorandum on public procurement – launching the so-called Best Value Initiative. The meeting of both organisations from 09 to 11 June 1999 in Berlin marks the starting point of their fight for public procurement practices that value quality in services over lowest price. On this occasion, CoESS and UNI Europa acknowledged today at their annual Social Dialogue Plenary in Brussels the long way the industry has come in the past 25 years, and showed commitment to continue their pledge – notably with a view to revising the EU Public Procurement Directive.

It was in June 1999 when CoESS and UNI Europa met in Berlin to launch an initiative which endures until today: the call for just public procurement practices that value quality of services and working conditions over the lowest price. At this meeting, the EU Sectoral Social Partners in private security signed, together with 300 guests from the security industry, unions, politics, media, and the European Commission, a memorandum on public procurement and the promotion of the best value principle.

Already 25 years ago, CoESS and UNI Europa identified low cost procurement practices as a key factor that promotes a race to the bottom in working conditions within the sector. Their memorandum lay the ground for many joint activities of both Social Partners at EU-level, including the very first, EU-funded Social Partner Guide on “Selecting best value - A manual for organisations awarding contracts for private guarding services” – a guide which was renewed in 2014. And the legacy of this document lives on until today, as Catherine Piana, Director General of CoESS, and Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, underline today.

“25 years ago, UNI Europa and CoESS showed foresight in raising – and addressing – the deficient EU public procurement rules that generate a race-to-the-bottom”, highlights Oliver Roethig. “And we achieved so much since then through our joint activities, and succeeded in putting public procurement at the top of the EU agenda today. This couldn’t come at a more important time. Today, on average in the EU, one in two tenders are still awarded based on the lowest price. Worse still, in ten Member States that range shoots up to 82-95 per cent. The lowest price comes at the expense of the quality of services, jobs and a more social Europe at large. This means that low-wage companies not respecting collective bargaining agreements are given a competitive advantage. This is particularly the case for labour-intensive industries such a security. But through our advocacy, we have created momentum towards a revision of the EU Public Procurement Directive. Just recently, the La Hulpe declaration, Enrico Letta’s report on the single market and a meeting of EU ministers have all come to the same – our – conclusion: the EU’s public procurement rules need to be reformed. We urge the next European Commission to act as a matter of urgency to support workers and reward decent companies.

Catherine Piana adds that “The initiation of such initiatives often do not only depend on the political will of all parties, but also the personal commitment of a few people. And on this day I want to pay tribute to the CoESS Social Dialogue Chairman at that time, Claude Levy – together with many others like Stephan Landrock, Marc Pissens, Harald Olschok and our current Social Dialogue Chairman, Eduardo Cobas, who drove CoESS’ initiative to promote the professionalism and qualitative working conditions for the decades to come. Today, we are proud to look back at an impressive history of collaboration with the unions at European level, which is characterised by trust and a mutual understanding that only Sectoral Social Dialogue can bring the best and fairest solutions to promoting qualitative working conditions in the private security services – for the benefit of workers, businesses and public security. Private security services have developed over the past 25 years into a critical service that protects European citizens in their daily lives, and contributes to the protection of Critical Infrastructure and public spaces. But the reality is also that our industry still deals with important challenges, including market players that do not play by the rules and public authorities incentivising a race to the bottom through procurement practices that only reward the lowest price instead of quality. We as Social Partners therefore take our responsibility to continue fighting for socially responsible procurement practices through a revision of EU law.”

Despite a new Directive that introduced the “Most Economically Advantageous Tender” principle in European public procurement law back in 2014, not much has changed. Although Social Partners support the implementation of the Directive national level by providing guiding principles for best value procurement, practices that award tenders based on lowest cost instead of quality services remain a stumbling block to the sustainable development of the sector. CoESS and UNI Europa have already been calling for a revision of the EU Public Procurement Directives since 2022.

The topic of public procurement is again high on the agenda in EU politics, with a recent report of former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta to the European Council and Commission recommending to take legal action and revise the EU Public Procurement Directives. The European Parliament made similar calls in the past. CoESS and UNI Europa therefore hope for legal action after the EU elections.