The scope of the binding nature of the consultation rules
The Council of State recalls that the candidates for the award of a concession contract must comply with the requirements imposed by the regulation of the consultation and may be exempted from this obligation only in the event that one of these requirements is obviously devoid of any utility for the examination of candidatures or offers.
Teaching # 1: Reminder binding nature of the consultation rules
The texts and the case law recall the mandatory nature of the consultation rules
With regard to the texts, Article L 3123-21 of the Order Code recalls that it is not allowed to participate, following the procedure for awarding the concession contract, the candidates who produce an incomplete application in relation to the requirements of the rules of the consultation. Article L 3124-3 of the Public Order Code also states that an irregular bid that does not comply with the requirements set out in the documents of the consultation must be rejected.
The principle according to which the regulation of the consultation of a public service concession or a public contract is mandatory in all its mentions is constantly reiterated by the jurisprudence of the Council of State (EC 23 November 2005, Société Axialogic, req. No. 267 494). This is why, the Council of State considers as irregular an application or an offer which in general does not respect the requirements of the specifications (CE 25 March 2013, Department of Herault, nr. 364824).
Teaching # 2: Reminder mandatory nature of the method of transmission of applications and offers
Dans son arrêt du 22 mai 2019, Sté Corsica Ferries, le Conseil d’Etat considère qu’une candidature doit être regardée comme incomplète quand bien même elle contiendrait les pièces et informations dont la production est obligatoire, dès lors qu'elle ne respecte pas les exigences fixées par le règlement de la consultation relatives au mode de transmission des documents, sous réserve que ces exigences ne soient pas manifestement inutiles.
Dans cette affaire, le Conseil d’Etat estime que l'obligation imposée aux candidats par le règlement de la consultation de déposer une version sur support numérique des dossiers de candidature n'est pas une formalité inutile, en raison notamment de ce qu'elle avait pour objet de permettre l'analyse des candidatures déposées dans des délais contraints. Par suite, la Haute Juridiction administrative considère que c'est sans commettre d'erreur de droit que le juge des référés a estimé que l'absence de version sous format dématérialisé du dossier de candidature de la société avait pour effet de rendre cette candidature incomplète alors même qu'une version sous format papier comportant les pièces et informations demandées avait été également déposée.
In what way the failure to produce a dematerialized application file would be more useful for its assessment than that presented in paper format? The Conseil d'Etat seems to consider that time constraints analysis Can justify this utility and therefore the rejection ... ..The solution does not fail to surprise by its severity as it is difficult to understand how a dematerialized application would allow a faster analysis than an application submitted in paper format. The argument does not hold. That the mode of transmission by dematerialized way represents a certain comfort for the buyer by ensuring it a fast transmission internally of the digital version of the file of candidature of a service to another is one thing, but from there to erect in solution in principle that the transmission by electronic way is more useful than the paper-based transmission for the intrinsic analysis of the application or the offer is somewhat surprising, especially when, as in this case, the paper version of the application was complete.
Teaching # 3: Exceptions to binding nature of the consultation rules
The binding nature of the consultation rules, however, yields in three cases.
- The first assumption is one in which some of the requirements set by the contracting authority are themselves either illegal or likely to undermine the principle of equal access to public procurement (EC 6 November 1998, Public Assistance - Hospitals from Marseilles, at the tables p.1019).
- The second hypothesis is that where the irregularity committed is both formal and devoid of any significance. Thus, an offer is not irregular because of the omission to sign only one of the parts of the contract, when this omission does not modify the meaning or the validity of the bidder's commitment (CE 8 March 1996, M. Pelte, Req. No. 133198, EC Nov. 9, 2007, Isosec Company, Req. No. 288289).
- The third hypothesis is now that the mode of transmission of applications and offers provided for by the consultation regulations is not respected (EC 22 May 2019, Sté Corsica Ferries, n ° 426763).
CE 22 May 2019, Corsica Ferries Company, n ° 426763
- It is clear from the documents submitted to the judge hearing the application for interim relief from the Bastia Administrative Court that, by a public notice of competition published on 8 August 2018, the community of Corsica initiated a procedure for the signing of new delegation agreements. public service for the maritime transport of goods and passengers between Corsica and the continent for a period of fifteen months from 1 October 2019 to 31 December 2020. This procedure was the subject of an allotment in five lots corresponding to each of maritime connections between the port of Marseille and the ports of Ajaccio, Bastia, Porto-Vecchio, Propriano and L'Ile-Rousse. By a letter of November 13, 2018, the president of the executive council of the community of Corsica informed the company Corsica Ferries of the rejection of his candidacy, on the ground that it had been presented in paper format without being accompanied by dematerialized copies delivered by keys USB, in breach of Article 6-1 of the consultation rules. The company applied to the judge of the administrative court of Bastia, on the basis of the provisions of Article L. 551-1 of the Code of Administrative Justice, for an application for the annulment of the decision rejecting his complaint. candidacy and that it be enjoined on the community of Corsica to admit it to submit an offer and to enter into a negotiation with it. The company Corsica Ferries appeals in cassation against the order of December 18, 2018 by which the judge of the summary of the administrative court of Bastia rejected his requests.
- D’une part, aux termes de l’article 23 du décret du 1er février 2016 relatif aux contrats de concession : “ I. - Avant de procéder à l’examen des candidatures, l’autorité concédante qui constate que des pièces ou informations dont la production était obligatoire conformément aux articles 19, 20 et 21 peuvent demander aux candidats concernés de compléter leur dossier de candidature dans un délai approprié. Elle informe alors les autres candidats de la mise en oeuvre de la présente disposition. II. - Les candidats qui produisent une candidature incomplète, le cas échéant après mise en oeuvre des dispositions du I, ou contenant de faux renseignements ou documents ne sont pas admis à participer à la suite de la procédure de passation du contrat de concession. / Les candidatures irrecevables sont également éliminées. Est irrecevable la candidature présentée par un candidat qui ne peut participer à la procédure de passation en application des articles 39, 40, 42 et 44 de l’ordonnance du 29 janvier 2016 susvisée ou qui ne possède pas les capacités ou les aptitudes exigées en application de l’article 45 de la même ordonnance “.
On the other hand, the regulation of the consultation provided by a licensing authority for the award of a concession contract is mandatory in all its mentions. The licensing authority can not, therefore, award this contract to a candidate who does not meet one of the requirements imposed by this Regulation, unless this requirement is manifestly devoid of any utility for the examination of applications or offers. An application must be regarded as incomplete, within the meaning of Article 23 of the Decree of 1 February 2016, even if it contains the documents and information the production of which is mandatory pursuant to Articles 19, 20 and 21 of this Decree, as soon as possible. when it does not comply with the requirements laid down in the consultation rules concerning the method of transmission of these documents, provided that these requirements are not obviously unnecessary.
First, it is clear from the wording of the order under appeal that, in order to reject Corsica Ferries' application, the judge hearing the applications for interim relief from the Bastia Administrative Court found, by a sovereign assessment devoid of denaturing, that the obligation imposed the applicants by Article 6-1 of the consultation regulation to file a digital version of the application files was not a useless formality, in particular because of its purpose to allow the analysis of applications submitted within a time limit. As was stated in the preceding paragraph, the candidates for the award of a concession contract must comply with the requirements imposed by the consultation rules and can not be exempted from this obligation unless the applicant one of these requirements would clearly be of no use in the examination of applications or offers. Consequently, it is without erring in law that the judge hearing the application for interim relief considered that the absence of a digitized version of Corsica Ferries' application file had the effect of making that application incomplete within the meaning of the Article 23 of the aforementioned Decree of February 1, 2016, even though a paper version with the requested documents and information had also been filed.
- En deuxième lieu, aux termes du I de l’article L. 1411-5 du code général des collectivités territoriales : “ Une commission ouvre les plis contenant les candidatures ou les offres et dresse la liste des candidats admis à présenter une offre après examen de leurs garanties professionnelles et financières, de leur respect de l’obligation d’emploi des travailleurs handicapés prévue aux articles L. 5212-1 à L. 5212-4 du code du travail et de leur aptitude à assurer la continuité du service public et l’égalité des usagers devant le service public (...). “
- It follows from the statements in the order under appeal that the public service delegation commission wrongly believed, when Corsica Ferries' application was opened, that it contained an external hard disk, and that it secondly, the project management assistance service realized that it was only an empty CD-ROM drive. Having found that the file was indeed incomplete as soon as the application files were opened, the judge hearing the application for interim relief from the Bastia administrative court did not err in law by pointing out that, in those circumstances, he was the commission of delegation of public service, taking into account the competences it holds of the article L. 1411-5 of the general code of the territorial authorities, to reject as incomplete the candidacy of the company Corsica Ferries.
- Lastly, the fact that the public service delegation commission was composed at its meeting of only members or alternates from the majority does not in itself imply that that composition was irregular. In rejecting the plea alleging irregularity in the composition of the Commission, which was based solely on that circumstance alone, the judge hearing the application for interim relief from the Tribunal administratif de Bastia, who moreover noted that the two substitute members who had sat on the the public service delegation commission had indeed replaced the two absent regular members of which they were the alternates, did not taint its order of mistake of law.
- It follows from the foregoing that Corsica Ferries is not justified in seeking the annulment of the order under appeal, which is sufficiently reasoned. The provisions of Article L. 761-1 of the Code of Administrative Justice, therefore, preclude the award of its claims for costs incurred by it and not included in the costs. On the other hand, under the same provisions, it is necessary to pay the sum of 4,000 euros to the community of Corsica.
Article 1: The appeal of Corsica Ferries is rejected.
Article 2: The company Corsica Ferries will pay to the community of Corsica a sum of 4,000 euros under article L. 761-1 code administrative justice.
Article 3: This decision will be notified to the company Corsica Ferries and the community of Corsica.