You may have seen news items about the UK’s non-participation in the recent EU-level joint procurements of personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing kits in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons for our non-participation remain somewhat unclear. You might, however, be interested to know a bit more about the joint procurement, so here is a short overview.
The joint procurements have been run by the European Commission on behalf of most of the EU member states under a joint procurement mechanism, available to signatories of the Joint Procurement Agreement (JPA). The UK is a signatory to the JPA, having signed up prior to leaving the EU and is still eligible to participate. Membership of the JPA goes wider than the EU. As of April 2020, the JPA has been signed by 36 countries including all EU and EEA countries, as well as Western Balkan countries.
In 2009, the outbreak of the H1N1 pandemic influenza highlighted weaknesses in the access and purchasing power of EU countries to obtain pandemic vaccines and medications. In 2010, the European Council requested the European Commission to start preparation of a joint procurement of vaccines in the frame of a future pandemic. This eventually led to the establishing of the JPA in 2014, with coverage going beyond vaccines and medications, to include antivirals and “medical countermeasures” for serious cross-border threats to health. These can include any medicinal products, medical devices or other relevant goods or services.
The aim of the joint procurement mechanism is to secure more equitable access to specific medical countermeasures and an improved security of supply, together with more balanced prices for participating EU countries.
A bit more detail
The JPA includes provisions concerning Member States’ allocation of the medical countermeasures obtained using joint procurement as well as covering matters such as tender documents, decision making on award and who signs the contracts.
Signatories to the JPA have the option to participate, on a case by case basis, in a particular joint procurement procedure until the publication of a call for tender. Participation in a procurement procedure does not prevent Member States from carrying out independent procurement procedures, including those involving the same medical countermeasures or the same economic operators as those subject to a joint procurement under the JPA.
The procurement rules applying to the joint procurement are not the EU Procurement Directives, but the rules governing procurement by EU institutions. In practice, these are closely modelled on the procedures in the EU Procurement Directives and they include provisions on the use of the negotiated procedure with, or without, prior publication of a contract notice.
The EU has run four COVID-19 related procurements using the joint procurement mechanism. The first for masks, launched at the end of February, was unsuccessful. In mid-March, procurements were launched for personal protective equipment (including masks), ventilators and a testing kit scheme.
According to news reports, no equipment has yet been distributed under these schemes but the EU has confirmed that the 25 Member States who participated in the PPE procurement can now place their orders. Ventilators will take more time, due to their complexity and the European Commission is still evaluating offers for testing kits.
For more information on the JPA follow this link
 BBC News website, 22 April 2020 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52380823
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