Navigating the future of public procurement

22 August 2023

Procurement, an often-underestimated part of municipal governance, is currently at the forefront of reshaping European cities’ strategies towards sustainability, digital transformation, and social responsibility. Eurocities’ work in the EU Big Buyers Initiative has given us the opportunity to take a deeper look into emerging trends in the European procurement landscape through surveys and interviews conducted with more than 100 European cities.

We have found that European cities are increasingly prioritising sustainable, digital, and socially responsible procurement practices. The focus areas are diverse: Burgas Municipality emphasises digital procurement, while Oslo is interested in integrating social responsibility into procurement.

Despite facing challenges like political and technical roadblocks, European cities demonstrate a collaborative spirit, with initiatives like Big Buyers Working Together facilitating knowledge sharing. This collective commitment underscores Europe’s vision of a sustainable, inclusive and digitally advanced future through innovative procurement strategies, one that can only be realised locally.

Our needs analysis survey is still open, so if you work for a local government, please take the time to make your voice heard here. The deadline for submissions is just ten days away. Results will inform knowledge-sharing opportunities and European procurement policies in the years ahead.

Embracing digital transformation

The drive towards digitisation is evident, with the Burgas Municipality as a key player. Allocating a sizeable budget for both internal and national procurement, their aim is clear: to streamline operations and embrace the digital age. This push towards digital procurement not only reduces the administrative burden but also negates the need for time-consuming supplier meetings, marking a clear departure from traditional methods.

Sustainability at the forefront

Procurement can be sustainable in its aims and in its form. For example, Helsinki’s ambitious plan is to become climate neutral by 2030, including through procurement in sustainable mobility and circular construction. Meanwhile, The Hungarian Regional Energy Agency for the North, with a dedicated budget for photovoltaic solar panels, is spearheading a collective shift towards green energy solutions in the region.

Other cities are working to bake sustainability into their procurement systems: cities like Rotterdam and Madrid are intertwining legislative measures to ensure sustainability remains a core focus across all areas of procurement.

Redefining social procurement

European municipalities are increasingly prioritising social procurement, integrating social responsibility within their procurement frameworks. The Municipality of Oslo, for instance, has introduced the ‘Oslo model,’ targeting work-related crime, and is set to incorporate social criteria including human rights and labour conditions into its procurement practices.

This holistic approach, combined with Oslo’s goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030, exemplifies the broader European vision of leveraging procurement power to enhance social considerations.

Innovations in waste management

Waste management strategies are also evolving. The City of Gothenburg, in collaboration with RENOVA, a public-owned company, is focusing on procuring fuel cell trucks for waste collection, highlighting the significance of partnership and shared insights in shaping procurement strategies. You can read more about Gothenburg’s journey towards electric vehicles for waste collection that don’t pollute as they go here.

Challenges ahead

A deep dive into procurement reveals a myriad of technical and political challenges cities face as they navigate the tumultuous waters of this administrative process. One such challenge is political support. While some cities cited upcoming elections as advantageous in spurring change, others pointed to the uncertainty surrounding newly elected governments as a factor that can pause progress as staff await new directives.

Cities also face regulatory challenges stemming from national laws. Especially in sectors like mobility and construction, the absence of a focused instrument at the EU level has also posed hurdles. Calls for “more regulatory work and research” on areas such as hydrogen were a frequent highlight of the Big Buyers survey.

Technical challenges are also common, especially when venturing into new terrain. Cities can find it daunting to radically reform complex procurement systems. Even cities like Gothenburg,  that had made significant progress, struggled with specifics in areas like quick charging stations for electric vehicles, a field that is still in its infancy.

If you work in a European municipality, please add your own challenges and priorities by filling out the Big Buyers Needs Analysis to ensure our future work can cater to your city. The deadline for submissions is just ten days away.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer