Customs today

The customs administrations across the European Union are uniquely equipped to play a central role in policing the EU’s external borders. This means, for instance, combating smuggling, seizing dangerous counterfeit goods, freeing internationally protected animals and fighting criminal networks, thereby defending the safety and security of European citizens.

There is not one EU customs service but 27 national customs administrations working together on the basis of a European policy and a common legal framework (the Community Customs Code) which sets out the rules and procedures to be applied. The 27 customs administrations must act as one.

“Customs authorities shall be primarily responsible for supervision of the Community’s international trade, thereby contributing to fair and open trade, to implementation of the external aspects of the internal market, of the common trade policy and of the other common Community policies having a bearing on trade, and to overall supply chain security. Customs authorities shall put in place measures aimed, in particular, at:

  1. Protecting the financial interests of the Community and its Member States;
  2. Protecting the Community from unfair and illegal trade while supporting legitimate business activity;
  3. Ensuring the security and safety of the Community and its residents, and protection of the environment, where appropriate in close cooperation with other authorities;
  4. Maintaining a proper balance between customs controls and facilitation of legitimate trade.”

Customs services in the EU play a dual role. Customs officers still act as collectors of customs levying import duties and taxes but increasingly they also work as “watchdogs” securing the Union’s external borders to protect citizens’ health and safety. Checks to enforce security and safety rules can only be performed at the EU’s external borders. It is inevitable that certain cargo shipments which could pose a risk to the safety or security of the EU and its citizens must be stopped and checked. These checks are different from the task of levying import duties, which customs authorities can perform at a later stage along the supply chain, for example on the premises of the importer or exporter, to avoid congestion at the EU’s external borders.

Border checks to guarantee the safety and security of European citizens are performed by customs officers in close cooperation with other border agencies, such as veterinary and product safety authorities. Two particular causes of concern for customs authorities with respect to health and safety are counterfeit goods and drug precursors.

Every shipment of goods which enters the European Union has to be declared to customs. On the basis of the customs declarations, customs officers check the shipment and levy the import duties and taxes due. In 2007, import duties totalling over €15 billion were levied, which is equivalent to 13.2% of the revenue side of the EU budget.

Since the Community Customs Code entered into force on 1 January 1993, simplified customs procedures have been introduced to make life easier for European importers and exporters, who generate 22% of world trade.

Simplified procedures allow checks to be carried out at the locations most convenient for traders and at the most opportune point in the logistical process. Use of these procedures is subject to authorisations granted to compliant operators once customs have ascertained that they are reliable. Audits also regularly check compliance by authorised operators when they use their authorisations.