A new system adopted by the European Commission that went into force last week considerably reduces the administrative burden for companies that want to have a fair shake at winning a public contract.

The European Commission earlier last month adopted the new European Single Procurement Document (ESPD), establishing a single standard form that allows all businesses to electronically self-certify that they meet the necessary regulatory criteria or commercial capability requirements. Only the winning bidder will then be required to submit all documentation proving that it qualifies for the contract.

Regulation 2016/7 entered into force on Jan. 26. To facilitate the use of the ESPD, a free, web-based system is currently being developed for member states and businesses.

“Accordingly, the ESPD obviates the need for suppliers to produce (at least at the beginning of the process) the substantial number of certificates and other documents issued by public authorities or third parties and which evidence compliance with these requirements,” states a client alert from law firm Eversheds.

One aim of the new ESPD is to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to participate in public procurements by reducing the administrative burden arising from the requirement to produce such evidence upfront. “By reducing the volume of documents needed, the European Single Procurement Document will make it easier for companies to take part in public award procedures,” Elzbieta Bienkowska, Commissioner responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs said in a statement.

“At the same time, the procurement rules permit contracting authorities to require at any time during a tender process any supporting documentation which is necessary to ensure the proper conduct of that process,” the Eversheds client alert stated. “Separately, other than in relation to certain contracts based on framework agreements, the bidder to whom it was decided to award the contract must submit up-to-date supporting documents that verify the statements made in the context of the ESPD.”

Contracting authorities should be aware that, since member states can postpone the obligation to exclusively use electronic means of communication until Oct. 18, 2018, the ESPD can be printed, filled in manually, scanned and sent electronically until then.

According to the European Commission, simplification of the tender procedure is just one of the major elements of public procurement reform, which will enter into force on April 18, 2016.

“Under the new system, suppliers must state that they are able, upon request and without delay, to provide the supporting documents necessary to prove compliance, unless they are already accessible via public registers,” the European Commission stated. “This means less administrative burden for businesses, particularly with respect to entities who fail to win the tender procedure.”

The web-based system is based on a data model that was developed in cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders active in the field of standardization. Funding from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) will be made available to facilitate integration of the ESPD into existing electronic procurement solutions.

The ESPD will allow for the reuse of data filled in by businesses in previous procurement procedures. It is also the entry point for the digitization of the qualification phase of public procurement.