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A framework is an agreement with suppliers to establish terms governing contracts that may be awarded during the life of the agreement. In other words, it is a general term for agreements that set out terms and conditions for making specific purchases (call-offs).
Note that a framework covers the provision of a generic group of goods, works or services (or a combination), for example:
You would normally have one ‘framework’ for each generic group, but you may have a ‘framework agreement’ with more than one supplier under each framework.
The framework agreement itself may be a contract, but only if the agreement places an obligation to purchase. In this case, it is treated like any other contract, and the EU procurement rules apply.
However a framework agreement is more likely to not be a contract itself, but merely an agreement about the terms and conditions that would apply to any order placed during its life. In this case, a contract is made only when the order is placed and each order is a separate contract. Despite this kind of agreement not technically being a ‘contract’, you still need to follow the EU procurement rules.
Here is an example framework with two agreements. Note that each project called-off under the agreement has its own contract.
These examples are from the Office of Government Commerce paper “Framework agreements and EC developments”. Click on each one to see the example.