UNI Europa win: EU Commission commits to address problems with public procurement


For the first time, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit responded directly to the call of the European Parliament to revise the EU Public Procurement Directive.

UNI Europa win: EU Commission commits to address problems with public procurement

On Monday, 15 January 2024, UNI Europa’s campaign “No Public Contract Without Collective Agreement” achieved a breakthrough in the fight for better jobs.

In presence of European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, the European Parliament engaged in a crucial plenary discussion on the Public Procurement Directive. And for the first time, the European Commission responded directly to the call of the European Parliament to revise it. Nicolas Schmit said:  “The Commission is committed to look at whether further specific actions if needed, even of legislative nature. Which means that we have to look at the present texts. (…) this includes absolutely the social consideration.”

The Public Procurement Directive outlines the conditions under which public authorities across the EU contract private corporations to deliver goods and services. Unfortunately, all too often the sole criterion is the price, which leads to a race-to-the-bottom on wages, working conditions and quality of service. Cleaners, call-centre workers, interpreters, safety guards and nurses – a large number of the 7 million service workers UNI Europa represents are directly impact by the way public tenders are awarded. 

MEPs in support of reform

UNI Europa came to Strasbourg to follow the debate, raise concerns in meetings with Members of European Parliament, and leave a message for those we didn’t manage to meet.

A majority of MEPs supported UNI Europa’s demand to stop social dumping and reform the Public Procurement Directive.

Dennis Radtke (EPP, Germany) kicked off the debate: “It actually is important to discuss this issue of public procurement here today and put this question here to the Commissioner”. Kim van Sparrentak (Greens/EFA, the Netherlands) added: “We can no longer allow companies to lower their standards while maximizing their profits at the expense of workers.”

Agnes Jongerius (S&D, the Netherlands) agreed: “We need to ensure that there will be no more public contracts granted to companies that have no collective agreements with their workers.” And Nikolaj Villumsen (The Left, Denmark) concluded: “It is crucial that we revise the public procurement directive as quickly as possible. No tax payers money should go to companies without collective agreements.” In an op-ed published ahead of the debate, four MEPs from four different political families had already called on the Commission to pave the way for reform.

Multiple other Members of European Parliament joined them in support of reform during the debate, including María Rodríguez Palop (The Left, Spain), Daniela Rondinelli (S&D, Italy), Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, Malta), Estrella Dura Ferrandis (S&D, Spain) and Milan Brglez (S&D, Slovenia).

Commission makes commitment

At the end of the debate, Commissioner Nicolas Schmit committed the European Commission to look into reform. He said: “The Commission is committed to look at further actions, even legislative.” He further acknowledged important facts: “If you are cheating, if you are not respecting labour rights, you are not respecting protection of your workers; well you will have the lowest price – but at what price and for whom?” and he recognised that legal uncertainties are a problem.

This is a great victory for UNI Europa’s campaign to reform EU public procurement rules. In a short interview, UNI Europa Regional Secretary Oliver Roethig discusses with MEP Nikolaj Villumsen, the initiator of the debate and long-standing ally of the public procurement campaign, the significance of Schmit’s statements.

Going forward, UNI Europa together with its affiliates will push for turning words into action.


UNI Europa