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Open contracting & the EU: what’s the progress on contract transparency?

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It could not have been a more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous year (or could it?), but for those in the procurement transparency space in Europe – oddly enough, 2021 has been a pretty good year.

With the Open Spending EU Coalition a new regional actor is bringing together the community of civil society organizations, academics, and journalists. The EU Commission has been doing a great job in standardizing procurement information across the block. Many new countries published or committed to opening procurement data, with ever more and better use of that information. 

That’s not so bad for the pandemic year full of spending scandals and uncertainty surrounding recovery planning. 2022 will be pivotal in re-shaping post-pandemic procurement to improve service delivery and respond to global challenges, such as the climate crisis and wider social tensions including pandemic-exacerbated inequality and the increasing lack of trust in institutions.

Here’s what happened last year and what to watch out for in 2022. 

A stronger community

2021 has been a pivotal year in building a strong community working on spending transparency in the EU. Together with around a dozen organizations and individuals, we launched the Open Spending EU Coalition to build power together and energize the spending transparency agenda. In its first year, we focused on the transparency of rapid recovery funding, transparency in company/beneficial ownership, and public procurement, naturally. We kicked off with an energetic campaign around transparency in the RRF plans and we discussed why EU recovery plans would be a waste of money without transparency in an op-ed on EurActive. 

The Coalition now has 15 amazing organizations as members, including Funky Citizens Romania, Access Info Europe, Government Transparency Institute and K-Monitor from Hungary, TI EU and TI chapters from Lithuania and Portugal and others. 

On a separate flung, worth a note was a series of recommendations for public procurement in the EU by a consortium of Tenders Guru, that, among other things, focuses on transparency below TED threshold procurement, and the control of procurement on the EU and national levels. 

Progress in Brussels & Luxembourg

The European Commission has been further standardizing procurement data through its TED (Tenders Electronic Daily) data collection and publication reform (eForms). Some countries are already implementing these forms as a way to collect more and better procurement data. We are working to ensure that the new EU data formats work with the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) and plan on launching our guidance in spring. 

The European Commission is also working on the so-called Public Procurement Data Space as part of the public procurement data strategy under the new European Strategy for Data. This will create a shared infrastructure of tools, allowing countries to analyze their information once clean eForms-compliant data is in place. In the pilot phase now, the EC is aiming to launch it in the next 2 years. 

A transformational move the European Commission can make is mandating countries to publish procurement data as open data. This is already legally possible by including public procurement into the list of so-called “High-value Datasets” under the Open Data Directive. We will work to help the EC do just that. 

Progress in countries

We have witnessed a breakthrough of open contracting adoption, with six new OCDS publishers and a few who are very close. Three countries stand out: Italy, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. 

Italy

Italy’s anti-corruption agency (ANAC) has been championing the transparency agenda and fed into the Italian government’s leadership in the international space. It chaired the G20 procurement transparency commitments and is co-chairing the Open Government Partnership in 2022. ANAC has been modernizing the government’s contract register to collect and publish all available contracting information in a centralized platform, putting OCDS at the heart of the system. We already had a peek at the first publication and are excited that it will be launched for public use soon. 

Lithuania

Having championed the use of open data and smart technologies in managing the pandemic it was recognized by a nomination for the Financial Times Intelligent Business. Lithuania is now integrating these approaches in the development of its new e-procurement platform, called Saulė. This project is the one to watch as it aims to build an almost fully open source procurement platform building on OCDS. This just might disrupt the global e-procurement market worldwide. 

The Netherlands

The government has been planning to build an OCDS-driven contract register and in December 2021, it finally came out with a policy position outlining its ambition to publish information across the whole purchasing cycle, from planning to implementation. Keeping in mind how conservative the Netherlands has been in balancing commercial secrecy and public right to know, this commitment could be a game-changer. We think that the Netherlands can make a drastic jump in 2022 and become a true champion of serving its business with more and better procurement information and using that information to inform other policy priorities, including climate transition and societal equality. 

Other EU countries

Levels of publication have been increasing, signalling positive trends. Below is the summary table of where countries are in terms of OCDS publication.

Already publishing in OCDSWorking to publish in 2022
CroatiaThe Netherlands 
France (subnational)Poland
Italy (non-governmental effort)Lithuania
PortugalItaly (ANAC)
ScotlandMalta
Slovenia
Spain (Zaragoza city)

EU neighborhood countries

When it comes to progress in the immediate neighborhood of the European Union the following countries stand out: Moldova, Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Moldova OCDS-driven MTender system was the basis for the launch of an advanced business intelligence tool. Serbia has prepared the OCDS publication, while Kosovo has already published its OCDS data with an API and has seen incredible progress in its procurement spending. Lastly, North Macedonia and BiH included open contracting commitments in their Open Government Partnership National Action plans. 

What’s next? 

We expect a few showcase implementations this year. As mentioned, we will work with Lithuania on the new e-procurement system and show how good open data can power green purchasing or boost the quality of health procurement. We will help Italy who seems to have all it takes to illustrate how open data and stakeholder engagement can help the Recovery spending. And we are excited to work with the Netherlands to deliver on its promise of more and better procurement services to its business. We hope there will be a few other strong implementations to watch, including Germany, Romania, and Slovenia. 

Together with the Open Spending EU Coalition, we will kick-off a campaign to include public procurement in the list of High-Value Datasets under the Open Data Directive. And, secondly, we will roll-out the pan-EU monitoring of transparency within the implementation of the RRF spending across the EU, working closely with the Open Government Partnership EU team. We will continue supporting the beneficial/ownership transparency campaign across the EU too. 

Finally, we hope to see our community grow and strengthen, and will pay lots of attention to green procurement and equity in public spending. I don’t know how 2022 will turn out, but if we and our community deliver, I am certain that it could be the best year ever for open contracting in the EU. 

If you have ideas on how we can do better and what we should be focusing on to accelerate that progress, reach out and tell us.