Here I reflect on the role of subjective or intentional elements in EU economic law prohibitions, particularly in relation to rules concerning public administration. From a normative perspective, it is desirable to suppress the need for an assessment of subjective intent and to proceed with an objectified enforcement of such prohibitions. With this in view, I consider public procurement and Member State aid rules as two examples of areas of EU economic law subjected to interpretative and enforcement difficulties due to the introduction – sometimes veiled – of subjective elements in their main prohibitions. I establish parallels with other areas of EU economic law – such as antitrust, non-discrimination law and the common agricultural policy – and seek benchmarks to support the main thesis that such intentional elements need to be ‘objectified’, so that EU economic law can be enforced against the public administration to an adequate standard of legal certainty. This mirrors the development of the doctrine of abuse of EU law, where a similar ‘objectification’ in the assessment of subjective elements has taken place.
I draw on the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union to support such ‘objectification’ and highlight how the Court has been engaging in such interpretative strategy for some time. The paper explores the interplay between this approach and more general protections against behaviour of the public administration in breach of EU law: the right to good administration in Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the doctrine of State liability for infringement of EU law. I conclude with the normative recommendation that the main prohibitions of EU economic law should be free from subjective elements focused on the intention of the public administration.