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La concession de service public « à la française » confrontée au droit européen

Listed author(s):
  • Henri Courivaud
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    THE FRENCH CONCESSION OF PUBLIC SERVICES CHALLENGED BY EUROPEAN LAW The French and continental concession system with their both variants, concession of public services and contract for public works, belong to an old legal and political tradition inherited from Roman and pre-revolutionary period. In such circumstances concession is based on a complex contract which mixes a range of public licenses to occupy a State property and to use an industrial patent on the one hand ; a range of public delegations in order to work utilities with special sovereign rights (monopoly, delegated regulation, exclusive rights) on the other hand. A concession system combines accordingly carrying out public works, a commercial or an industrial trade and carrying out public prerogatives in exerting police regulations aimed at managing these utilities with a view to fulfilling and achieving social and political purposes. This system face challenges nowadays and is situated at crossroads that condition its future. Two topical influences may question the political importance that such concessions or such contracts may reveal as a legal implementation of a public policy initiated by the government and local authorities and enforced by statutory companies with exclusive rights. The first influence comes from European law constructed by the Commission and the Court of Justice. In order to give a full, complete and useful effect to EC-objectives («l’effet utile»), and specially the so-called « economic four liberties » (goods, services, persons, capital), this concession system how immaterial to European regulation it may be apparently, must comply with an economic and comprehensive approach deriving from competition as far as the State as a contracting person for goods, services and investments at large is concerned. From an European point of view concession actually must amount to a mere confrontation of a mere demand written by a mere buyer – even a State-owned one, or an authority – and a mere offer presented by companies put at the same level of competition without discrimination (nationality, competence, legal position). This compliance is deducted from Commission Green or White Papers and communications on public purchase orders (for instance, communication on concessions, April 29th, 2000), and Court of Justice decree (mainly Telaustria case, December 7th, 2000) concerning EC regulations on tenders organised by public bodies or concerning public essential facilities. But such a compliance faces a sharp criticism too, raised by French politicians (through the « reciprocity » theme) and experts in laws governing relationship between public authorities and citizens or private body corporates («la doctrine du droit administratif»). They underline and stress their criticism on an European bias towards a short term approach derived from international conglomerates’ experience on the one hand, an European way of ignoring the State as an organizer of economic life through purchase orders and tenders on the other hand. On the contrary they explain that a concession system is mainly aimed at a long term policy which consists of an investment organisation in order to fulfil much more than plain economic objectives. In other words, they say concession means a priority-way of State intervention, combines with State managed companies or industries and finally implements «service public» objectives. The second influence comes from internal law in the way it deals with self-government principles as far as local authorities are concerned. A double trend is newly seen through a set of laws pertaining contracts signed by these authorities and through case-laws given by the highest administrative jurisdiction («le Conseil d’État») in the way it defines and describes a concession system. This trend leads to a reduction of powers entitled and exerted by local authorities organizing economic life. In other words, these law restricting freedom of contracting for fear of new forms of corruption (mainly, «loi Sapin», January 29th, 1993), these case-laws reducing the genuiness of a «service public» concession (Conseil d’État, decree «Compagnie luxembourgeoise de télévision», April 16th, 1986) have questioned the way these local authorities chose their statutory company for a long term contract without organising a competitive examination through tenders and contract specifications (i.e. a choice from «intuitu personae»). More than this, all these internal laws and case-laws meet and are suitable with these European requirements of transparency, non-discrimination imposed by EC regulations and directives on public bodies dealing with companies and strengthen such a reduction in freedom of contracting at the expense of local authorities. Critics question the consistency of this second (European) trend viewed as a «banalisation» of concession system joined to a variant of a public tender – «délégation de service public» –, with constitutional principles.

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    Article provided by De Boeck Université in its journal Revue internationale de droit économique.

    Volume (Year): t. XVIII, 4 (2004)
    Issue (Month): 4 ()
    Pages: 395-434

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    Handle: RePEc:cai:riddbu:ride_184_0395
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