Framework agreement is one of the important terms defined at the beginning of the Procurement Directive 2004/18/EC.
Definition: Framework agreement
Article 1.5 of the Procurement Directive offers the following definition of a framework agreement:
5. A ‘framework agreement’ is an agreement between one or more contracting authorities and one or more economic operators, the purpose of which is to establish the terms governing contracts to be awarded during a given period, in particular with regard to price and, where appropriate, the quantity envisaged.
Recital 11 presents some important features of a framework agreement:
(11) A Community definition of framework agreements, together with specific rules on framework agreements concluded for contracts falling within the scope of this Directive, should be provided. Under these rules, when a contracting authority enters into a framework agreement in accordance with the provisions of this Directive relating, in particular, to advertising, time limits and conditions for the submission of tenders, it may enter into contracts based on such a framework agreement during its term of validity either by applying the terms set forth in the framework agreement or, if all terms have not been fixed in advance in the framework agreement, by reopening competition between the parties to the framework agreement in relation to those terms. The reopening of competition should comply with certain rules the aim of which is to guarantee the required flexibility and to guarantee respect for the general principles, in particular the principle of equal treatment. For the same reasons, the term of the framework agreements should not exceed four years, except in cases duly justified by the contracting authorities.
Recital 16 of the Procurement Directive serves as a reminder that the Community procurement legislation is harmonised, not unified. National differences and choices exist:
(16) In order to take account of the different circumstances obtaining in Member States, Member States should be allowed to choose whether contracting authorities may use framework agreements, central purchasing bodies, dynamic purchasing systems, electronic auctions or the competitive dialogue procedure, as defined and regulated by this Directive.
The procedures are set out in more detail in the Procurement Directive, with framework agreements in Article 32:
1. Member States may provide that contracting authorities may conclude framework agreements.
2. For the purpose of concluding a framework agreement, contracting authorities shall follow the rules of procedure referred to in this Directive for all phases up to the award of contracts based on that framework agreement. The parties to the framework agreement shall be chosen by applying the award criteria set in accordance with Article 53.
Contracts based on a framework agreement shall be awarded in accordance with the procedures laid down in paragraphs 3 and 4. Those procedures may be applied only between the contracting authorities and the economic operators originally party to the framework agreement.
When awarding contracts based on a framework agreement, the parties may under no circumstances make substantial amendments to the terms laid down in that framework agreement, in particular in the case referred to in paragraph 3.
The term of a framework agreement may not exceed four years, save in exceptional cases duly justified, in particular by the subject of the framework agreement.
Contracting authorities may not use framework agreements improperly or in such a way as to prevent, restrict or distort competition.
3. Where a framework agreement is concluded with a single economic operator, contracts based on that agreement shall be awarded within the limits of the terms laid down in the framework agreement.
For the award of those contracts, contracting authorities may consult the operator party to the framework agreement in writing, requesting it to supplement its tender as necessary.
4. Where a framework agreement is concluded with several economic operators, the latter must be at least three in number, insofar as there is a sufficient number of economic operators to satisfy the selection criteria and/or of admissible tenders which meet the award criteria.
Contracts based on framework agreements concluded with several economic operators may be awarded either:
— by application of the terms laid down in the framework agreement without reopening competition, or
— where not all the terms are laid down in the framework agreement, when the parties are again in competition on the basis of the same and, if necessary, more precisely formulated terms, and, where appropriate, other terms referred to in the specifications of the framework agreement, in accordance with the following procedure:
(a) for every contract to be awarded, contracting authorities shall consult in writing the economic operators capable of performing the contract;
(b) contracting authorities shall fix a time limit which is sufficiently long to allow tenders for each specific contract to be submitted, taking into account factors such as the complexity of the subject-matter of the contract and the time needed to send in tenders;
(c) tenders shall be submitted in writing, and their content shall remain confidential until the stipulated time limit for reply has expired;
(d) contracting authorities shall award each contract to the tenderer who has submitted the best tender on the basis of the award criteria set out in the specifications of the framework agreement.
The Commission’s Directorate-General Internal market and services presents ten pages of detailed explanations in its Explanatory note – Framework agreements – Classic Directive [= Procurement Directive].