On 20 November, the European Parliament’s ENVI committee will vote on the new LIFE programme Regulation, to approve the continuation of the Programme for the next programming period (2021-2027) and to significantly increase its budget, from €3.5b to €5.45b, according to the proposal of the Commission.

One of the important documents on which the Parliament’s decision will be based is the “Evaluation of LIFE Programme for Environment and Climate Action”, written by the “Regulatory Scrutiny Board” of the Commission – a publicly available document.

New Europe has been covering the bid for the monitoring of this massive programme, which has just last week been awarded to the same consortium for the fourth time.

The European Commission, took four months of assessment and evaluation, compared to one-month evaluation works for the same tender four years ago. Awarding the tender to the same consortium for the fourth time sets a new record. To the best of our knowledge it is the first time that an EU multimillion Euro tender is awarded to the same businesses for the fourth time!

Whether on purpose or be mere reality, the tender specifications were meticulous in favoring the incumbent competitor. And this, despite the Regulatory Scrutiny Board of the Commission finding there is necessity of further evidence of efficiency in the LIFE programme. In their report, in spite of the overall positive opinion, one can read many reserves about the operation and the impact of the LIFE Programme.

Indeed, the review of the 2014-2020 period happened early, and the scrutiny board notes in their report that “information on the actual impacts of projects is not yet fully available.”

Furthermore, the Commission board questions the efficiency of the programmes implemented projects, and raises issues of cost-benefit – including that of the monitoring consortium:

“The report should compare the actual management costs to the costs expected in the cost-benefit analysis. It should include not only selection costs of the programme, but also its running costs. The analysis of implementation savings and costs should reflect the results from the underlying study in an accurate and transparent way (e.g. regarding the roles of EASME and the external consultant).”

That is, the Commission’s scrutiny board wants more information on impact (currently there is none), and more transparency on the operation of the programme, and specifically of the external consultant. The current situation with the external monitoring team: the same consortium managing LIFE in the last 12 years, which has been awarded the new contract thus making 16 years in total – a situation of monopoly. They have also had the same team leader since 2005.

The Commission maintains there are no rules preventing the award to the same contractor over, and over again. Indeed, they maintain that not awarding a contract to a contractor that scored high in quality or offered the best value for money offer will be against open competition rules.

For the sake of transparency, and without going into painstakingly boring detail, it is necessary to repeat that the evaluation of the tender was based on pre-defined criteria favouring the incumbent. There are methodologies used in the present Contractor’s proposal which have been developed through the present contract, using EU Commission funds and contributing to an unfair advantage over the competitors. There are several such examples substantiating unfair competition.

Among others, Task 3 of the tender specifications refers to “Business-related activities”.

It came to our surprise that the winning bid (what a streak they are on!) had privileged access to materials resulting from an extra task commissioned by the European Commission in the current LIFE contract, specifically on this subject under the title “Activities related to close to market projects”.  This extra task yielded precise methodology papers and reports non-accessible to other competitors – which gave a clear advantage to the consortium in question, both in terms of the cost of putting together the bid, and the end result.

In other words, in the LIFE tender specifications, the European Commission requested the tender participants to present a methodology on a task where only the existing contractor had access to information resulting from its current contract funded by the Commission.

Hours before the tender results were announced, the European Commission assured Kassandra that “several tenderers were able to provide the documents required and fulfilled the minimum quality requirements”. Yet the monopoly lives on.

Surely, if the expertise is so specific that the Commission has to fund it and then ask for it to be included in the tender, and if the tender for monitoring of these projects is so lucrative – the Commission would be better off doing its own monitoring.

The Commission has offices in all the countries where projects are being run, and this is not a short-term programme, so why do they keep running tenders designed to go to the same consortium if they can just do the job in-house?

Even if the Commission has awarded the best consortium with the project, for the fourth time, the system that allows for that to happen with not even breaking a sweat is broken.

There seems to be a prevailing modus operandi – whereby whatever is not contrary to the rules, is permissible. But what is not illegal, is not always ethical and moral. Supporting one consortium monopoly feels a little bit too much like state-aid. And €80m is a lot of money for one tender… But you know what they say: Mo money, mo problems.