Equality of treatment

May 12th, 2017 by James Goudie KC

In Case C-131/16, Archus v PGNG, the CJEU on 11 May 2017 restated with reference to previous authority the principles of equal treatment of tenderers, as follows (numbering added):-

  1. The requirement for the contracting authority to observe the principle of equal treatment of tenderers which has the aim of promoting the development of healthy and effective competition between undertakings taking part in a public procurement procedure means, inter alia, that tenderers must be in a position of equality both when they formulate their tenders and when those tenders are being assessed by the contracting authority;
  2. That principle requires, in particular, that all tenderers are afforded equality of opportunity when formulating their tenders, which therefore implies that the tenders of all competitors must be subject to the same conditions;
  3. The principle of equal treatment and the obligation of transparency also preclude any negotiation between the contracting authority and a tenderer during a public procurement procedure, which means that, as a general rule, a tender cannot be amended after it has been submitted, whether at the request of the contracting authority or at the request of the tenderer;
  4. To enable the contracting authority to require a tenderer whose tender it regards as imprecise or as failing to meet the technical requirements of the tender specifications to provide clarification in that regard would be to run the risk of making the contracting authority appear to have negotiated with the tenderer on a confidential basis, in the event that that tenderer was finally successful, to the detriment of the other tenderers and in breach of the principle of equal treatment;
  5. However, the Court has also previously held that the principle of equal treatment does not preclude the correction or amplification of details of a tender, where it is clear that they require clarification or where it is a question of the correction of obvious clerical errors, subject, however, to the fulfilment of certain requirements;
  6. First of all, a request for clarification of a tender, which may not be made until after the contracting authority has looked at all the tenders, must, as a general rule, be sent in an equivalent manner to all undertakings which are in the same situation and must relate to all sections of the tender which require clarification;
  7. In addition, that request may not lead to the submission by a tenderer of what would appear in reality to be a new tender;
  8.  Lastly, as a general rule, when exercising its discretion as regards the right to ask a tenderer to clarify its tender, the contracting authority must treat tenderers equally and fairly, in such a way that a request for clarification does not appear unduly to have favoured or disadvantaged the tenderer or tenderers to which the request was addressed, once the procedure for selection of tenders has been completed and in the light of its outcome;
  9. A request for clarification cannot, however, make up for the lack of a document or information whose production was required by the contract documents, the contracting authority being required to comply strictly with the criteria which it has itself laid down;
  10. A request sent by the contracting authority to a tenderer to supply the declarations and documents required cannot, in principle, have any other aim than the clarification of the tender or the correction of an obvious error vitiating the tender; it cannot, therefore, permit a tenderer generally to supply declarations and documents which were required to be sent in accordance with the tender specification and which were not sent within the time limit for tenders to be submitted; nor can it result in the presentation by a tenderer of documents containing corrections where in reality they constitute a new tender;
  11. In any event, the obligation which a contracting authority may have under national law, to invite tenderers to submit the declarations and documents required which they have not sent within the time limit given for the submission of offers, or to correct those declarations and documents in the event of errors, cannot be permitted except in so far as the additions or corrections made to the initial tender do not result in a substantial amendment of that tender;
  12. The initial tender cannot be amended to correct obvious clerical errors other than exceptionally and where that amendment does not result, in reality, in the proposal of a new tender;
  13. The principle of equal treatment of economic operators must be interpreted as precluding, in a public procurement procedure, the contracting authority from inviting a tenderer to submit declarations or documents whose communication was required by the tender specification and which have not been submitted within the time limit given for the submission of tenders, but that article does not preclude the contracting authority from inviting a tenderer to clarify a tender or to correct an obvious clerical error in that tender, on condition, however, that such an invitation is sent to all tenderers in the same situation, that all tenderers are treated equally and fairly and that that clarification or correction may not be equated with the submission of a new tender.

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