1. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) play a crucial role in reaching the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy1. Whereas they are considered as crucial engines for growth and job creation, their competitiveness is affected by a limited exploitation of international opportunities and innovation prospects in the Single Market and beyond.
In this context, the Programme for the competitiveness of enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (2014-2020) 2, hereinafter referred to as “COSME”, aims to promote growth and to strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of enterprises in the European Union.
This call for proposals is aimed at implementing part of the COSME Work Programme 2016 adopted on 18 January 20163.
The Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises4 (hereinafter referred to as "EASME" or the "Agency"), acting under the powers delegated by the European Commission, manages this call for proposals. EASME is entrusted by the European Commission with the implementation, inter alia, of parts of the COSME programme.
1.2. Policy Context
Every year, over 250 000 public authorities in the EU spend around 14% of GDP on the procurement of services, works and supplies. For 2013, the estimated value of tenders published in TED amounted to around 423 billion euro, while the total general government procurement expenditure excluding utilities was estimated at around 1787 billion euro.
Considering the importance of the public procurement market, improving SME access to it is an important objective of the European Commission as pointed out both in the Small Business Act5 and the Small Business Act Review6. Several measures have been introduced since the adoption of these Communications and the participation of SMEs in public procurement has improved over time. However, they have still not reached their full potential.
For the period 2009-2011, SMEs won 29% of above threshold procurement through direct contracts. When other factors are taken into account (e.g. joint bids, subcontracting) the percentage grows to 46%. However, this is still significantly lower than the 58% that represent their contribution to GDP. Their participation in below-threshold procurement is higher, equalling their contribution to GDP. The participation of SMEs in cross-border procurement is limited. Cross- border procurement through direct contracts in the EU reached an average of 1.26% of all contracts and 3.35% of the aggregate procurement value. Although 54% of these contracts were won by SMEs, this amounted to only 22% of the value of cross-border procurement.
European rules on public procurement date from 2004 and implement the principles and freedoms established by the EU Treaties. They aim to make the procedures for awarding public procurement contracts transparent and open to all European companies, who can thus offer their services and products throughout the European Union.
Economic, social and political developments and current budgetary constraints have made it necessary to reform the rules; firstly to make them more simple and efficient for both public purchasers and companies and secondly to provide the best value for money in public purchases, while respecting the principles of transparency and competition.
Therefore, in 2014, the Commission introduced a public procurement reform containing two Directives replacing those from 2004 (for classic procurement and utilities) and a new Directive on concession contracts. Member States are required to transpose these Directives by 18 April 2016.
This reform includes specific legislative measures to support SME access to public procurement. The main ones are: encouragement of dividing contracts into lots; limitation of the turnover value required for participation in a tender procedure; and the reduction of documentation requirements.
These measures address several of the barriers SMEs face, but others, such as lack of knowledge about calls, especially about those published in other Member States, limited tender skills and experience, little dialogue with procurers, etc. persist. These issues are better tackled by supporting SMEs directly.
Apart from these barriers, SMEs would also benefit from support to manage or even take advantage of other changes introduced by the 2014 reform and trends in public procurement.
One important aspect in this direction is assisting SMEs to better profit from green, social and environmental procurement.
Another development in the field of public procurement is the aggregation of demand. The use of centralised procurement and of framework agreements has increased in recent years. SMEs will need to join forces and collaborate in order to keep up.
A further important change, which is to the benefit of SMEs, but requiring preparation in advance, is the move to end-to-end e-procurement; this change brings specific opportunities for cross-border procurement.
2. OBJECTIVE(S) – THEME(S) – ACTIVITIES – OUTPUTS
The general objective of this call for proposals is to contribute to improving SMEs participation in tenders, especially across borders, through actions of intermediate organisations supporting SME's participations in public procurement. As the needs of SMEs vary from both country to country and sector to sector, organisations submitting proposals must tailor their services to their clients' needs. However, each proposal has to have a cross-border dimension, covering at least the countries represented in the consortium.
The action must cover several types of activities, such as:
1) Exchange of information on procurement between Member States (tender alerts and guides on country specific elements on public procurement);
2) Training and advisory services to SMEs (e.g. on the changes introduced by the new Directives, use of e-procurement systems, developing a proposal, etc.);
3) Organising matchmaking events;
4) Coaching/mentoring on bidding in other Member States; 5) Organising business-to-procurers events;
6) Coaching/mentoring on joint bids;
7) Mentoring activities between large companies and SMEs, etc.
The organisations should take into account and address in their proposal the developments mentioned in section 1.2 of this document.
The expected results include the following:
- Intermediate organisations offering more and better support to SMEs in public procurement, especially cross-border procurement
- Better informed and prepared SMEs to participate in public procurement;
- More SMEs participating in public procurement, especially cross-border procurement;
- Materials presenting the specificities of the public procurement legislation in the different Member States;
- Better informed procurers on the specificities of SMEs and on the technologies available in the market;
- SME-formed consortia to participate in calls for tender.
The action should complement the information on Your Europe Business7 (YEB) and the efforts of the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) in this field, serve as a basis for a better understanding of the SMEs’ concrete needs and develop more precise tools. Therefore, the experience gained and certain materials or tools developed under this action of interest to other SMEs could be transferred free of charge, in particular to EEN and YEB, for further dissemination to SMEs.
The proposal must explain how it will contribute to address the following indicators for the overall action:
1. Number of SMEs reached by these actions (at least 500 SMEs from 5 Member States) 2. Number of guides developed for the Member States specificities (at least 5)
3. Number of meeting the procurers events (at least 5 meetings organised)
4. Number of partner-matching actions (at least 10)
Deadline for submitting applications
28/07/2016 17:00h Brussels time
Information to applicants*
End of September 2016
Signature of grant agreements*
Starting date of the action*
4. BUDGET AVAILABLE AND FUNDING OF PROJECTS
The total budget earmarked for the co-financing of projects is estimated at EUR 800 000.
EASME reserves the right not to distribute all the funds available.
5. ADMISSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
The following requirements must be complied with:
Applications must be submitted no later than the deadline for submitting applications referred to in section 3;
Applications must be submitted using the electronic system specified in section 14;
Applications must be drafted in one of the EU official languages.
Failure to comply with those requirements will lead to the rejection of the application.
6. ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA
6.1. Eligible applicants
Applicants must be legal entities forming a consortium.
The entities participating in the consortia must be organisations having a core activity in business support and/or the promotion of SME participation in public procurement. This may include:
- Chambers of commerce and industry or similar bodies;
- Business support organisations, start-up centres and incubators;
- Business associations and business support networks;
- Public and private entities offering business support services;
- Public authorities active in supporting SME participation in public procurement.
Affiliated entities, i.e. legal entities having a legal or capital link with applicants, who are neither limited to the action nor established for the sole purpose of its implementation, shall take part in the action as applicants in order to declare eligible costs.
Only applications from legal entities established in the following countries are eligible:
EU Member States;
Countries participating in the COSME programme pursuant to Article 6 of the COSME Regulation8.
6.2. Eligible consortia
This call aims at selecting consortia composed of minimum 3 legal entities from 3 Member States and countries participating in the COSME programme under Article 6 of the COSME Regulation.
6.3. Implementation period
The maximum duration of projects is 18 months.
Applications for projects scheduled to run for a longer period than that specified in this call for proposals will not be accepted.
7. EXCLUSION CRITERIA
All applicants must provide a declaration on honour signed and dated by an authorised representative, stating that they are not in one of the situations of exclusion listed in that declaration on honour.
The funding body reserves the right to verify whether the successful applicants are in one of the situations of exclusion by requiring the supporting documents listed in the declaration of honour.
8. SELECTION CRITERIA
8.1. Financial capacity
Applicants must have stable and sufficient sources of funding to maintain their activity throughout the period during which the action is being carried out or the year for which the grant is awarded and to participate in its funding. The applicants' financial capacity will be assessed on the basis of the following supporting documents:
a) Low value grants (≤ EUR 60 000): - a declaration on their honour.
b) Grants ≥ EUR 60 000:
- a declaration on their honour and, EITHER
the profit and loss account, the balance sheet for the last financial year for which the accounts were closed;
for newly created entities, the business plan might replace the above documents. OR
the table provided for in the application form, filled in with the relevant statutory accounting figures, in order to calculate the ratios as detailed in the form.
c) Grants for an action ≥ EUR 750 000, in addition:
- an audit report produced by an approved external auditor certifying the accounts for the last financial year available. In the event of an application grouping several applicants (consortium), the above threshold applies by applicants.
The above-listed documents will have to be provided at later stage, via the electronic submission tool and only upon request of EASME.
On the basis of the documents submitted, if the RAO considers that financial capacity is not satisfactory, he may:
8.2 Operational capacity
Applicants must have the professional competencies as well as appropriate qualifications necessary to complete the proposed action.
In this respect, applicants have to submit the following supporting documents:
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