Proposals for the revision of EU Directives covering public procurement were issued in 2000. The two Directives - one for government bodies and one for utilities - aim to simplify and update the EU's public procurement rules.
These govern some €1.4 billion of public contracts granted each year, representing 14% of the EU's gross domestic product.
The existing Directives required public bodies to choose the "most economically advantageous" bid in a competitive tendering process and did not include any specific references to environmental or social considerations.
The new proposals contained the first references to the environment in EU public procurement legislation. They required purchasers to consider environmental issues alongside traditional factors, such as price and quality, before choosing the best bid - without dictating the weight purchasers should give to environmental issues in arriving at the final decision.
Negotiations on the proposals between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers concluded in December.
The court ruled that the contracting authority must award a contract to the tenderer whose bid is the most economically advantageous, but that it may take environmental criteria into account when deciding which bids to take into consideration, provided the criteria are expressly mentioned in the tender notice or specification and are connected with the subject matter of the contract.
The key provisions in the final texts are:
The change should provide more scope for the inclusion of "external costs" associated with products, such as the cost of treating respiratory illness linked to the use of vehicles.
The new Directives may not trigger a sea change in green purchasing. While the previous procurement Directives did not mention the environment, they did not rule it out either. Moreover, since the Helsinki buses ruling, public bodies have had greater freedom to take environmental criteria into account in granting contracts.
However, the Directives spell out the new legal position, which should quell authorities' fears about potential legal challenges. And by explicitly including the environment as a legitimate factor in procurement, they will encourage more public bodies to green their purchasing operations.