Portugal to apply EU rules to notebook computer contracts following Commission’s intervention

Thursday January 27th, 2011

The European Commission has today decided to close an infringement case against Portugal for having breached EU public procurement rules in the awarding of three contracts for the supply of notebook computers to students, teachers and trainees within the context of the education programmes «e-Escola», «e-Professores» and «e-Oportunidades».

As a result of the Commission’s intervention, the Portuguese authorities will now hold a public tender and take measures to ensure that the supply contracts are open to all interested companies in the EU. Citizens in Portugal can now be assured that these contracts will be awarded on the basis of assuring the best value for money.

What is the aim of the EU rule in question?

Public procurement is about how public authorities spend public money on construction, goods and services. 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.

Contracts for the supply of notebook computers

In April and July 2008, the Portuguese Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communications directly awarded public contracts for the supply of notebook computers and the provision of Internet services to the following telecom operators: TMN, SONAECOM and VODAFONE. The notebooks and internet service were for students, teachers and trainees for use within four educational programmes.1 More than one million notebooks with internet access were supplied.

The Portuguese authorities claimed that no public tendering procedure was required for these contracts because they considered the notebooks as part of the payment by the telecom providers for operating third generation GSM telecommunication services.

The Commission found that the contracts included discriminatory technical specifications with regard to the notebooks’ microprocessors, in effect limiting the range of computers that could be supplied. Moreover, by awarding the contracts without an EU-wide tender procedure, companies throughout the EU were denied the possibility of bidding for the contracts. The establishment of precise terms and conditions to the contracts by the Portuguese authorities and the subsequent award of those contracts without a proper tender procedure suggested that those authorities had breached EU public procurement rules.

The Commission began legal proceedings against Portugal in order to review the contracts in greater detail. After the Commission issued a reasoned opinion asking Portugal to change its procedures, (see IP/10/678), the Portuguese authorities took the appropriate measures in order to open future contracts to competition. The first contract that was submitted to EU-wide competition in January 2010 concerned the «e-Escolinha» educational programme. They will also follow adequate tender procedures, for the award of new contracts for the other three educational programmes.

Portugal has also corrected the discriminatory technical specifications related to the notebooks’ microprocessors and the Portuguese authorities confirmed that the new contracts will be awarded in compliance with the open and transparent tendering processes required by EU law.

The Commission will closely monitor implementation of the commitments undertaken by the Portuguese authorities in the context of the infringement procedure at stake.

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