The EU has potentially granted millions of pine trees a stay of execution by launching a consultation on e-procurement for public sector goods and services.
EU spending, together with that of national and local governments and administrations, is of course one of the biggest gravy trains on the planet. The prospect of electronic procurement is the equivalent of moving from boring old paper boarding passes to mobile phone based passes for businesses looking to clamber aboard.
Still, it's unlikely to happen in the immediate future. The Commission has actually just published a "green paper" on proposals for e-procurement, which "will seek the views of interested parties on how the EU can help Member States to speed up and facilitate the procurement process".
Any standardised euro-e-procurement system would be a mammoth undertaking. EU rules demand that public sector contracts above a given size must be open to tender. The Commission said that last year, 150,000 public sector contracts were advertised, accounting for 3 per cent of EU GDP.
The paper outlines obstacles to e-procurement while identifying the risks that would arise if different countries pursue different paths. The Commission argues that a standardised system is needed to prevent national or regional governments putting in place systems that would exclude companies from other countries, for example.
"Our evaluation shows that where it is being used, it increases the speed and efficiency of public purchasing while significantly cutting the costs when participating in tenders. However, we are only at the beginning of a long road," the Commission said in a statement.
No kidding - the EU has been pushing e-procurement since it developed an action plan in 2004. It believes the technology is now in place. The consultation should be finalised next year. Maybe.
With amazing understatement, the Commission suggests the Green Paper "will be of interest to national ministries, large procurement agencies and contracting authorities, providers of technology solutions, procurement specialists in the private and public sector and representatives of business trade associations."
In the meantime, it has unveiled its Certis database, "a free, web-based tool to help companies and contracting organisations cope with the documentation demands encountered when tendering for public contracts in the EU". ®