Sucking the LIFE out of Europe’s economy

As Kassandra has explained in the last year, the tender for the monitoring of the LIFE program worth €80 million over four years, has been at least problematic. Through our investigation of this case we discovered the triangle of legitimized illegitimacy, justified immorality, and technical legality.

In LIFE, as in life, what is legal is not always moral. Especially when those who write, shape, and interpret the rules are part of the process of applying them as well.

Thus, LIFE lends itself as a case study for the new leadership of the European Commission in order to illustrate how the system entrenches specific beneficiaries of EU funds, and creates mechanisms for them to be able to win the same tenders again and again – through the manipulation of consortia so that they can be considered distinct bodies even though their core remain the same, and the people running them remains the same.

This, to a certain extent is natural. After all, to play devil’s advocate: when an institution as large as the European Commission finds trusted partners, should it not be able to count on these partners in the long term?

Simply put: No. It cannot be that only few companies – such as in the case of the LIFE program, evaluate the usefulness of EU financed programs, where billions are spent every year, and the whole system works in order for them to be able to come back and do this every time the program is up for renewal.

Perhaps it is time to consider rearranging these funds in ways that can be beneficial to the community and accessible to all, thus turning citizens, and influencers in the member states, from EU-negative to EU-friendly, or alas, even positive.

Let us look at the monitoring tender for the LIFE Program which was set up and run through the European Commission’s EASME agency headed by Julien Guerrier.

A simple yet very critical question about this tender is why did so few companies, out of the hundreds of thousands throughout Europe, “dare” to participate in this €80m tender?

In the last monitoring tender for the LIFE Program, a four-year (2+2) contract, only two consortia, in addition to the incumbent, presented an offer. As foreseen by New Europe, the incumbent, NEEMO, was the winning consortium, as its technical offer received the highest mark. By the way NEEMO, or the core components of NEEMO were the beneficiaries of the program for the fourth time, under different consortium names, but always with having the same core participants.

Interestingly, the bid of runner-up, got only 65 points out of 100 in the evaluation. However, it didn’t object the evaluation, or lodge any revision complaint. This is likely because the companies involved are already involved with several EU contracts, including a component of LIFE’s own projects proposal evaluations!

As for the third consortium, it was evaluated at 49 points, just one point below the level that an objection against the result of the Commission’s evaluation could be lodged…

It could of course all be by coincidence, but experience tells us that nothing happens by accident in the EU’s capital. And so, any means by which an obstacle to the incumbent consortium’s getting the tender could be met, was meticulously removed.

As to the details of the offers, it is something that needs further investigation as it seems that entire sections of the winning bid were essentially financed by the Commission in the context of the previous LIFE contract. Not only did this give the incumbents the upper hand in their preparedness but  meant that competitors did not have access to this (publicly   funded) information to be able to evaluate and use in their own bids.

In real terms, how could a company, no matter how big and efficient, in a country like Poland or even in Hungary, take the initiative to form a consortium and participate in this tender when, metaphorically, the deck appears stacked? To prepare an offer for such a tender requires significant resources, and no European company would expend  these resources unless they feel they have a chance.

It’s time companies around Europe, small and large, begin to feel that there is a fair process when it comes to being able to compete for public funds. The EU can do better, starting from its very heart; Brussels.