Commission sets out strategy for EU’s Customs Union

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The European Commission has adopted its long-term plan to give fresh impetus to the management of the Customs Union, a basic pillar of the European Union which supports and protects the Single Market.

The role of customs authorities in ensuring safety and security in the EU is increasing. A strong and well managed system helps to protect the public against terrorist, health, and environmental threats while at the same time fostering and developing competitive businesses. Last week’s Communication sets out a strategic vision for the Customs Union which would see cooperation among national authorities increase in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial affairs, Taxation and Customs said:

 “Common threats require common actions from Europe. National customs authorities have an important role to play across the EU to protect our interests. From trade facilitation and border security to civil protection and the fight against the smuggling of illegal weapons and counterfeit goods, the European Commission wants to equip national customs and their 120.000 dedicated people with the right tools to handle this crucial mission. Next year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Customs Union. Let’s further improve this great achievement for the years to come.

The Customs Union operates under already agreed principles and a legal framework known as the Union Customs Code (UCC) which has been in force since 1 May 2016. While the rules are the same across the EU, customs authorities do not always apply them in a cohesive, uniform manner. The vision laid out in this Communication stress that the independent customs administrations of Member States should work towards acting as one single entity. At the same time, cooperation with other border management and security authorities such as national border and coast guards, the European Border and Coast Guard and Europol must also be encouraged and strengthened. Equally, customs operations across the EU should have access to the IT systems needed to handle as many as nine customs declarations per second.

Key priorities of the Commission for future work include:

  • Encouraging common agreement amongst Member States on the application of EU customs rules;
  • Helping customs administrations to make the work of 120,000 customs staff more effective;
  • Upgrading and aligning new EU-wide IT systems dedicated to customs procedures to ensure the best possible cooperation;
  • Promoting best practices to make it easier for national authorities to cooperate and share information.

This Communication also makes the case for a stronger role for customs authorities in a variety of areas in the context of border management, including in the fight against terrorism and border security. Concretely, the Commission has also proposed an update to rules on the control of cash at customs in order to curb illegal financial activity by criminal and terrorist groups. Work is also ongoing to examine how customs authorities could tackle the illicit trade in cultural goods by terrorist groups.

Future work will also concentrate on human and financial resource management, and the provision of specialised customs equipment including mobile laboratories and security scanners.

Customs Union

The Customs Union, which will celebrate its 50 years anniversary in 2018, is unique in the world. It is a foundation of the European Union and essential for the proper functioning of the Single Market. Once cleared by Customs in one Member State, goods can move freely within the Union on the basis that all Member States apply the same revenue and protection rules at external borders. The 28 customs administrations of the EU must act as though they were one, while also facilitating trade and protecting the health and safety of all EU citizens.

An early example of successful integration in the EU, the Customs Union created the conditions for establishing the single market and served as a stable foundation for economic integration and growth. This Communication addresses the question of how the Commission and the Member States can act in partnership to ensure that the Customs Union makes the best possible contribution to the prosperity and security of the EU.