Spending rules will ignore green options, claim critics

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Series Details Vol 7, No.16, 19.4.01, p19
Publication Date 19/04/2001
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Date: 19/04/01

By Laurence Frost

A coalition of environmental groups is pushing for changes to new public procurement rules which they say will prevent government departments and local authorities from taking the environment into account in their spending decisions.

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Climate Network Europe, WWF, the European Environmental Bureau and Globe - a cross-party group of MEPs - are concerned about the hard line being taken by the European Commission's internal market department.

They say that under the proposals authorities will have very little room to use environmental criteria when they choose between bids for public contracts.

"The problem is that it means decisions have to be based on the products themselves," said Filipa Pimentel of Greenpeace. "The way that goods are produced can't even be considered."

The draft directive, which aims to increase the transparency and fairness of public contract awards, sets out the reasons that authorities can invoke to justify their decisions.

They must either go for the lowest-priced bid, or choose "the most economically advantageous for the contracting authority". Green groups say this form of words excludes from consideration environmental effects whose costs are borne by wider society, such as global warming and pollution.

"The way a company's run can't be taken into account," said Pimentel. "It may be a very heavy polluter, but if our concern is not related to the product itself, we have to ignore it."

In a letter to internal market chief Frits Bolkestein and his environment counterpart Margot Wallström, an alliance of 53 of the EU's largest cities - including Athens, Birmingham, Bordeaux, Brussels, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Lyon, Newcastle, Seville, Stockholm and Turin - has condemned the Union executive's approach.

The Eurocities group echoed concerns already voiced by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), which says the measures would leave its members unable to support EU-backed initiatives such as the Forest Stewardship Certificate or eco-labelling schemes.

Local governments are still waiting for promised Commission guidelines on existing public procurement rules that are due to be published next month, almost a year overdue.

Although drafts have been circulated, the 'interpretative document' has been held up by differences between departments. Some observers now say there are signs that environment officials intervened to make the guidelines more eco-friendly when they gave their final submissions last week.

"There are positive signs for us," said Pimentel. "There may be some changes."

Much may also depend on the European Court of Justice's expected ruling on a challenge to the city of Helsinki's decision to purchase buses with low greenhouse gas emissions.

Lawyers for the city are understood to be invoking the Treaty of Amsterdam, which includes as an objective the integration of environmental concerns into all areas of policy.

Article forms part of a survey on the environment.

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