The Official Journal of the European Union(OJEU) is the gazette of record for the European Union. It has been published in 22 official languages (23 when Irish is required) of the member states, every working day since the Treaty of Nice entered into force on 1 February 2003. The OJEU superseded the earlier Official Journal of the European Community (OJEC) with the establishment of the European Union.
The Official Journal comprises three series:
- The L series contains EU legislation including regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions.
- The C series contains EU information and notices including the judgments of the European Courts, calls for expressions of interest for EU programmes and projects; public contracts for food aid; etc.
- The supplementary S series contain invitations to tender and is the series of most interest to users of Tenders Direct and so is the one I’ll concentrate on here.
Supplement S contains invitations to tender for the following:
- Contracts for works, supplies and services from public sector organizations in all EU Member States;
- Contracts from utility companies operating in the water, energy, transport and telecommunications sectors;
- Contracts from EU institutions;
- European Development Fund contracts (ACP countries);
- Phare, Tacis and other contracts from central and eastern Europe;
- European Investment Bank, European Central Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development financed projects;
- European Economic Area contracts (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein);
- Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) from Switzerland;
- Notices concerning European economic interest groups (EEIGs);
- Public contracts for air services.
All three series of the OJEU are published every working day (5 days a week). Approximately 160,000 invitations to tender are published each year, of which more than 14,000 are from the UK or Ireland. Unfortunately these contracts are all categorised using the Community Procurement Vocabulary (CPV) codes, which as my colleague Hailey Thomson pointed out in her recent article are ‘In principle brilliant, in practice, hopeless.’
The Publications Office of the European Union (L’Office des publications de l’Union européenne, or OPOCE) is responsible for the production of the OJEU. OPOCE is based in Luxembourg and employs a staff of 655. Supplement S (OJS) was originally produced as a hard copy booklet, which was then distributed by post to subscribers throughout Europe. Towards the end of the 90’s this became unmanageable and so it is now only available as a CD/DVD or online via the TED website. The method of collecting the information that is published in the OJS has also changed out of all recognition in the last 7 years. In 2002 OPOCE were receiving between 700 and 1,000 notices for publication every day. 95% of these were being submitted by post or fax, which then had to be laboriously entered into the production system. The remaining 5% of notices, primarily from Sweden and Norway, were being submitted in an electronic format.
The impending accession of 10 new member states to the European Union in 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) presented a major problem to OPOCE, not only because the volume of contract notices would increase but the number of official languages was also going to increase at the same time. It was inevitable that the existing production system for the OJEU would simply not be able to cope with the amount of work required.
In 2002 the TED unit within OPOCE, headed by the far sighted Philippe Lebaube, launched a pan-European project to develop an electronic message format that could be used by agents within each member state to submit contract notices directly into the OJEU production system. The initial participants in what became known as the eSender project were a relatively small group of member state administrations and commercial companies including Millstream, the parent company of Tenders Direct. The eSender format was finalised by May 2002 and was incorporated into the production process by the beginning of 2003. Uptake of the new format built steadily and relatively quickly to the level that more than 90% of contract notices are now submitted through the eSender process.
There are now 59 eSenders in production, i.e. actively sending contract notices to OPOCE for publication in the OJEU. Millstream currently operates 3 public procurement portals for member states to collate contract notices (Ireland’s eTenders, Norway’s Doffin and Scotland’s Public Contracts Scotland) and uses the eSender system to publish just over 8% of all the OJEU contract notices.
Millstream also manages the Tenders Direct service which enables businesses (one man SME’s to multi-national corporations) to find details of the contract notices published in the OJEU as well as a multitude of contracts that aren’t so widely published.