Commission interpretative communication on concessions under Community law

Published date29 April 2000
Subject MatterInternal market - Principles,Competition,anti-discrimination
Official Gazette PublicationOfficial Journal of the European Communities, C 121, 29 April 2000
EUR-Lex - 32000Y0429(01) - EN

Commission interpretative communication on concessions under Community law

Official Journal C 121 , 29/04/2000 P. 0002 - 0013

Commission interpretative communication on concessions under Community law

(2000/C 121/02)

On 24 February 1999 the Commission adopted and published a Draft Commission interpretative communication on concessions under Community law on public contracts(1) and submitted it to a wide range of bodies for consultation. Taking into account the substantial input(2) it has received following publication of the initial draft in the Official Journal of the European Communities, the Commission has adopted this interpretative communication.


1. Concessions have long been used in certain Member States, particularly to carry out and finance major infrastructure projects such as railways and large parts of the road network. Involvement of the private sector has declined since the first quarter of the 20th century as governments began to prefer to be directy involved in the provision and management of infrastructure and public services.

2. However due to budgetary restrictions and a desire to limit the involvement of public authorities and enable the public sector to take advantage of the private sector's experience and methods, interest in concessions has been heightened over the last few years.

3. First of all, it should be pointed out that the Community does not give preference to any particular way of organising property, whether public or private: Article 295 (ex Article 222) of the Treaty guarantees neutrality with regard to whether enterprises are public or private.

4. Given that this form of association with operators is being used more and more frequently, particularly for major infrastructure projects and certain services, the Commission feels this interpretative communication is needed to keep the operators concerned and the public authorities informed of the provisions it considers apply to concessions under current Community law. Indeed, the Commission is repeatedly faced with complaints concerning infringements of Community law on concessions when public authorities have called on economic operators' know-how and capital to carry out complex operations. It has thus decided to define the concept of "concessions" and set out the guidelines it has followed up to now when investigating cases. This interpretative communication is therefore part of the transparency required to clarify the current legal framework in the light of the experience gained when investigating the cases examined up to now.

5. In the draft version of this interpretative communication(3), the Commission had stated that it also intended to deal with the other forms of partnership used to call upon private-sector financing and know-how. The Commission decided not to consider the forms of partnership whose characteristics are different from those of a concession as defined in this interpretative communication. Such an approach was also favoured in the input received. The wide range of situations, which are in constant flux, as revealed in the feedback on the draft interpretative communication, calls for an indepth consideraton of the characteristics they have in common. The discussion set off by the publication of the draft interpretative communication must therefore continue on this matter.

6. The comments on concessions have enabled the Commission to refine its analysis and define the characteristics of concessions which distinguish them from public contracts, in particular the delegation of services of general interest operated by this kind of partnership.

7. The Commission wishes to reiterate that this text does not seek to interpret the specific regimes deriving from Directives adopted in different sectors, such as energy and transport.

This interpretative communication (hereinafter referred to as the "communication") will specify the rules and the principles of the Treaty governing all forms of concession and the specific rules that Directive 93/37/EEC on public works contracts(4) (hereinafter "the works Directive") lays down for public works concessions.


Concessions are not defined in the Treaty. The only definition to be found in secondary Community law is in the works Directive, which lays down specific provisions for works concessions(5). However, other forms of concessions do not fall within the scope of the directives on public contracts(6).

However, this does not mean that concessions are not subject to the rules and principles of the Treaty. Indeed, insofar as these concessions result from acts of State, the purpose of which is to provide economic activities or the supply of goods, they are subject to the relevant provisions of the Treaty and to the principles which derive from Court Case law.

In order to delimit the scope of this communication, and before specifying which regime applies to concessions, their distinctive features must be described. To this end, a brief review of the concept of works concessions as found in the works Directive should prove useful.


2.1.1. Definition as given in Directive 93/37/EEC

The Community legislator has chosen to base its definition of works concessions on that of public works contracts.

The text of the works Directive states that public works contracts are "contracts for pecuniary interest concluded in writing between a contractor and a contracting authority (...) which have as their object either the execution, or both the execution and design, of works related to one of the activities referred to in Annex II or a work (...), or the execution by whatever means of a work corresponding to the requirements specified by the contracting authority" (Article 1(a)).

Article 1(d) of the same Directive defines a public works concession as "a contract of the same type as that indicated in (a) except for the fact that the consideration for the works to be carried out consists either solely in the right to exploit the construction or in this right together with payment".

According to this definition, the main distinctive feature of a works concession is that a right to exploit a construction is granted as a consideration for having erected it; this right may also be accompanied by payment.

2.1.2. Distinction between the concepts of "public works contract" and "works concession"

The Commission believes that the right of exploitation is a criterion that reveals several characteristics which distinguish a works concession from a public works contract.

For example, the right of exploitation allows the concessionaire to demand payment from those who use the structure (e.g. by charging tolls or fees) for a certain period of time. The period for which the concession is granted is therefore an important part of the remuneration of the concessionnaire. The latter does not receive remuneration directly from the awarding authority, but acquires from it the right to obtain income from the use of the structures built(7).

The right of exploitation also implies the transfer of the responsibilities of operation. These responsibilities cover the technical, financial and managerial matters relating to the construction. For example, it is the concessionaire who is responsible for making the investments required so that it may be both available and useful to users. He is also responsible for paying off the construction. Moreover, the concessionaire bears not only the usual risks inherent in any construction - he also bears much of the risk inherent in the management and use of the facilities(8).

From these considerations, it follows that, in works concessions, the risks inherent in exploitation are transferred to the concessionaire(9).

The Commisison notes that more and more public works contracts are the subject of complex legal arrangements(10). As a result, the boundary between these arrangements and public works concessions can sometimes be difficult to define.

In the Commission's view, the arrangement is a public works contract as understood under Community law if the cost of the construction is essentially borne by the awarding authority and the contractor does not receive remuneration from fees paid directy by those using the construction.

The fact that the Directive allows for a payment in addition to the right of exploitation does not change this analysis. Such situations have occurred. The State therefore bears part of the costs of operating the concession in order to keep prices down for the user (providing "social prices"(11)). A variety of procedures are possible (guaranteed flat rate, fixed sum but paid on the basis of the number of users, etc.). These do not necessarily change the nature of the contract if the sum paid covers only a part of the cost of the construction and of operating it.

The definition of a concession allows the State to make a payment in return for work carried out, provided that that this does not eliminate a significant element of the risk inherent in exploitation. By specifying that there may be payment in addition to the right to exploit the construction, the works Directive states that operation of the structure must be the source of the concessionaire's revenue.

Even though the origin of the resources - directly paid by the user of the construction - is, in most cases, a significant factor, it is the existence of exploitation risk, involved in the investment made or the capital invested, which is the determining factor, particularly when the awarding authority has paid a sum of money.

However, even within public works contracts, part of the risk may be borne by the contractor(12). However, the duration of concessions makes these risks more likely to occur, and makes them relatively greater.

On the other hand, risks arising from the operation's financial arrangements, which...

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