Sector News
Tragedy in Paris and Will Nationalism Hit Public Procurement?

After such a depressing weekend, it is hard, to be honest, to focus on the details of European procurement issues. At least the security people at the Stade de France did a great job in preventing what could have been an even worse disaster, turning back bombers at the gate. As someone who has attended hundreds (maybe thousands?) of football matches and rock concerts over the years, both the scenario in the Bataclan and the prospect of suicide bombers inside a crowded stadium are amongst my worst nightmares.

(And we should not forget the 147 people, mostly students, who were killed on Thursday in an assault by al-Shabab militants on a university in north-eastern Kenya; al-Shabab is aligned with ISIS). .

What are the consequences of these appalling acts? That is what the media, politicians and public will now focus on in coming weeks. I guess there is an optimistic viewpoint. Perhaps countries in Europe will come together and take a more proactive and common stance, both towards fighting ISIS and trying to solve the underlying problems that stimulated their rise, principally the “failed states” and civil wars in the Middle East. Perhaps moderate Muslims will become more vocal and help to root out the evildoers, and fight against radicalization of a small minority of their young people.

On the other hand …

The economic effects may not be long-lived; people have short memories in terms of the risks of travel. But the French economy, which is already weak, is not well-placed to see a drop in consumer spending, a decline in tourists and business visitors, and the cost of additional security precautions. When I was in Paris three weeks ago it was swarming with Japanese, Chinese and other Asian tourists; will they decide Sydney or New York are safer bets for their next trip?

The political issues also have considerable scope to end not well. This plays to the nationalist political parties and their agendas (I won’t call them “right wing” because arguably ISIS is about as Fascist a group as you can imagine). The issue of refugees flooding into Europe will inevitably be linked with the Pairs tragedy, and other countries will follow Poland we suspect in taking a tougher line. Can Angela Merkel continue with her stance on accepting unlimited numbers of refugees into Germany? That seems an even more ridiculous and inadvisable policy than it did a few weeks back.

There is a good chance the Schengen free movement of citizens won’t survive this, and it is easy to foresee a number of issues where European countries are going to take approaches that are locally driven rather than pan-European.

If you have got this far, you may wonder what all this has to do with procurement. Well, I was wondering already if the highest and most successful point of European public procurement has already been passed. The article we will publish tomorrow, written before Friday’s events, will explain more. But basically, public procurement, just as in the case of other policy areas, may start moving back towards national approaches that look to benefit individual countries and play to local political drivers, rather than supporting the great European vision.

You can read more about what we mean tomorrow, but I can’t help wondering whether we might look back on 2010-14 perhaps as a “golden era” of European public procurement, when the vision of common standards and policies, and businesses competing openly for work around Europe, looked like it had a chance at least of succeeding.