ANKÖ: For several years the Commission has been working to establish the e-Certis Information in the member states. Companies like ANKÖ are supporting this project. What is the status today?
Nikita Stampa: e-Certis is an information system that provides information on different requirements and evidence necessary to take part in procurement procedures across the EU and the European Economic Area. It provides real time information about possible means of proof required when taking part in tenders in different countries, i.e. a certificate, self-declaration, attestation, etc. e-Certis is a unique one-stop-shop available to public authorities and bidders alike. It contains samples of documents and when available, it also helps user to get them directly from an online database. It is therefore a useful tool to monitor the progress of digitisation of databases and a source of information for bodies that issue certificates used in public procurement in Europe. This makes it an invaluable benchmarking tool for the regulatory practices of Member States in this area. We expect that it will become increasingly important for cross-border transactions, eventually extending beyond public procurement. Today, e-Certis includes about 1100 entries on various certificates used in Europe, including around 300 proofs of evidence from most Member States. 18% of the certificates are accessible online; a sample is available for 30% of them. The content is constantly updated. The information included in e-Certis will be link with the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) and e-procurement platforms will also automatically connect to e-Certis to obtain updated information on criteria or means of proof.
The Commission actively invest in developing e-Certis. For example, ANKÖ was one of the grantees for a Connecting Europe Facility call in 2015 which funded the integration and development of eCertis. ANKÖ's solution has already been deployed and accessible to Austrian users.
How important is the e-Certis online guide to support the establishment of the European market?
e-Certis is an important source of information for contracting authorities who receive a bid from a supplier from another country, and for bidders willing to participate in tenders in another country. It is also very user friendly. Almost all the information contained in the system is available in all EU official languages. We also plan to link e-Certis to an automatic translation system to ensure that all the content is available in any EU official language. We can see that the use of e-Certis is increasing and we expect that thanks to ANKÖ's service it will continue to grow.
e-Certis should make it easier for companies to take part in tenders in other countries: Do you have any information on how often companies already have been working across national borders?
The main source of information is a study on cross-border penetration, which has been recently published on our website. At EU level, between 2009 and 2015, the share of direct cross-border awards was 1.7% by number of contract awards and 3% if the value of contracts is considered. In Austria, the contracting authorities awarded 5.7% of the contracts to EU companies; the corresponding figure in value terms is 4.8%. On the other side, Austrian companies won 5.5% of total contracts in other EU countries and this represented 6.5% of the total value of contracts in the EU for the same period (for both cases these are among the top shares recorded by a country of the EU).
In countries like Austria there are often concerns that with European tenders some foreign companies could dump national prices. How would you argue to minimize these concerns?
Let's look at the facts. The majority of cross-border public procurement takes place indirectly through local subsidiaries of foreign companies which employ local people and pay local taxes. This happens everywhere in the EU; in Austria for instance cross-border procurement via local subsidiaries is three times larger than direct cross-border (with the seller is located in another EU country). In fact, if we consider the value of contracts, the share of direct cross-border procurement reaches 5.2% of the total value of contracts awarded vs. 19.8% which takes place via local subsidiaries. Due to potentially higher shipping costs or translation costs, contracting authorities tend to buy cross-border only in specific cases such as when there is a large gap in price/quality/choice between domestic and cross-border offers, when there is limited availability of suppliers at national level e.g. highly specialized public institutions (universities, hospitals) that need certain technical expertise or when only foreign bidders could provide truly innovative solutions.
e-Certis is an important part of the process to establish ESPD. What is the status in this greater process?
The European Single Procurement Document (ESPD) is implemented in Member States at various speeds. Some national ESPD services are already operational, for example in the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark. This will facilitate the use of ESPD and foster its integration into the national e-procurement ecosystem.
The ESPD is the building block for the implementation of the "once only principle" (i.e. that business should be asked only once the information that is stored in publicly owned databased) in the EU. In fact, the ESPD can be connected to the national pre-qualification services or to the databases storing the means of proof/certificates. Such automation will take some time to be implemented. However, it will greatly simplify the life of all parties involved in public procurement procedures.
In tenders the identification of bidders is mandatory. For foreign companies this is often a problem, only local electronic signatures can be accepted by national law. How far is the integration process in this field (i.e. eIDAs) and how important is this for your directives?
It is important to mention that eSignatures have a distinct function from eIDAs which are used for the identification purposes. Under the old rules, eSignatures had a function of authentication; however, this changed with the new eIDAS Regulation and eSignatures can only be used by natural persons to sign, i.e. express the consent on the e-signed information. When a contracting authority from a given Member State requires advanced electronic signature, then it has to accept such a signature from a certificate provider from a trusted list. In this respect the eIDAS Regulation defines clear rules that are applicable in all Member States. The provisions of the eIDAS Regulation concerning trust services (including electronic signatures) apply as of 1 July 2016. Therefore, if any eSignature (or the tender documentation) is refused on the basis that it was provided in another Member State that would be a clear breach of EU law.
What do you think will be the next steps in the digital transformation of public procurement?
This will depend on the vision and the maturity of development of each Member State. The transition to e-procurement is well under way and over time the way business is conducted in public procurement will change profoundly. We believe that introducing end-to-end e-procurement can push for the modernisation of public administration. The digitisation of information will allow processing and reuse of data; this will have significant implications in terms of management, monitoring and accountability of public procurement. Moreover, it will allow integrating systems (e.g. public procurement, e-payment and accounting data), to improve the governance and management of public expenditure. On top of that, e-invoicing contributes to faster payment between public administration and business. In general terms, we can expect an increasing level of automation to be introduced in public procurement process, as it is happening in other areas.
Can we expect even more European information systems in the field of public procurement?
No, at this point we do not plan to launch new information systems developed by the European Commission. As said above, we favour a decentralised approach. This means that information systems should be developed and provided at national level. This allows taking into account of local considerations (for instance, national legislation) and to foster better integration into the national e-procurement ecosystem. At the same time, the European Commission has funded important large scale projects which greatly contribute to the digitisation of public procurement and interoperability between Member States (for instance PEPPOL with regard to e-Delivery and e-invoicing). Specifications resulting from these projects are used by some applications to exchange data across the borders. Enhancing interoperability to avoid digital fragmentation of the European public procurement market is a priority for the Commission.
About Nikita Stampa.
Nikita Stamoa is Deputy Head of the Unit “Services to Consumers” in the Directorate General for the Internal Market and Services in the European Commission. The unit’s main responsibility is the full implementation and enforcement of the Directive on Services in the Internal Market. This Directive is the corner stone of the European integration of the markets for services that account for close to 50 percent of EU GDP.
 http://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/5c148423-39e2-11e7-a08e-01aa75ed71a1 Study "Measurement of impact of cross-border penetration in public procurement" February 2017.