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Guest article: Philippe Citroën, UNIFE Director General

Do you like MEAT? Better public procurement for Europe

Every day, rail is further connecting the European Union. As the European rail supply industry continues to provide cities, regions and member states with the high-quality products that will enable a truly interoperable Single European Railway Area (SERA), it often finds itself competing for European public procurement tenders with third nation companies that benefit from state patronage.

Guest article

Philippe Citroën, UNIFE Director General

This unorthodox relationship allows foreign competitors to win contracts with unusually low bids, while often diminishing Europe’s rail network through the provision of low-quality products. This is concerning as public procurement accounts for a significant share of the EU economy (around 20 % of EU GDP) and is crucial for European manufacturers and suppliers of rail products. After months of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis that threatens future market contractions, our sector would be better positioned to provide next generation technologies needed to complete EU Green Deal objectives without these added objectives. However, there is a solution: The Most Economically Advantageous Tender, or MEAT, principle.

This concept calls on public institutions to take a more holistic approach to selecting a bid. Under MEAT, contracting bodies would assess offers not only on their upfront cost but also other factors such as technical or technological value, life-cycle costing, and environmental and/or social impact. By looking beyond the price tag, officials can help empower the European rail supply industry as it faces unfair competition based on underbidding.

At the moment, there is no obligation in the EU procurement market to use criteria that favour innovative, high-quality products. By choosing to favour these metrics, contracting authorities can make public procurement a lever for maintaining European industrial jobs and, as the EU pursues its European Green Deal, an instrumental driver for smart, sustainable, and innovative technology. Such technologies, like Automated Train Operation (ATO), ETCS Level 3, Next Generation Telecommunication systems and Satellite Positioning, to name but a few, are being pioneered by European companies and making railway networks across the planet greener, easier to maintain and more efficient. These breakthroughs are being developed, or were developed, through Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking projects. Research and Innovation Commissioner Mariya Gabriel could greatly support Commissioner Adina-Ioana Vălean’s efforts to create a more sustainable transport sector by allowing the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking (S2R JU), a private-public partnership led by Executive Director Carlo Borghini, to be continued as “Shift2Rail 2” under Horizon Europe. This extension, which is currently being negotiated, would be a meaningful step towards creating technologies that will make Europe’s cleanest transport solution more efficient and even more sustainable in the years to come.

UNIFE and its members have also taken further steps to make this set of criteria more widely accepted. In July 2019, we worked with CER and EIM to finalise a ‘Recommendation to apply the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT) and good practices in the domain of railway procurement’. In the coming months, we intend to promote that joint recommendation within the railway operating community. Furthermore, UNIFE has driven the AEGIS Europe alliance’s activities on public procurement. This effort has benefitted from the support of 22 European upstream and downstream manufacturing federations. In September 2019, the alliance formalised a position paper calling for reforms of the European public procurement framework to strengthen provisions on MEAT, as well as to address abnormally low tenders from State-owned Enterprises.

The European rail supply industry continues to craft innovative products that make global railways greener and more effective, but we can only best enjoy these benefits if contracting authorities are incentivised to choose them over cheaper alternatives. Public buyers can be sure to contribute to important climate action such as the stated EU Green Deal goal of reducing transport emissions by 90 %, support European jobs while ensuring the best use of public money. Together, we can make rail the backbone of Europe’s green mobility future.

Together, we can make rail the backbone of Europe’s green mobility future.


Promoting Rail Market Growth for Sustainable Mobility

The four priorities to achieve our mission:

  • Promoting European policies favourable to rail
  • Shaping an interoperable and efficient European railway system
  • Ensuring European Rail Supply Industry leadership through advanced research, innovation, and quality
  • Providing UNIFE Members with strategic and operational knowledge

Who we are

UNIFE is representing the European rail manufacturing industry in Brussels since 1992. The Association gathers over 100 of Europe’s leading large and SME rail supply companies active in the design, manufacture, maintenance, and refurbishment of rail transport systems, subsystems, and related equipment. UNIFE brings together 14 national rail industry associations of European countries. UNIFE members have an 84 % market share in Europe and supply 46 % of the worldwide production of rail equipment and services. UNIFE advocates its members’ interests at both the European and international level – actively promoting EU rail equipment and standards within Europe and abroad. UNIFE members are committed to providing the best technology to meet the challenges of growing transport volumes and the demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly transport.