Taxation and customs union

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EU Customs strategy

One minute of the EU Customs Union
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› About the EU Customs Union
A new role for Customs today
› Mission of customs authorities
› A strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union
› The State of the Customs Union
› Useful links


› 'The EU customs union:
   protecting people and facilitating trade'

About the EU Customs Union

The Customs Union is a foundation of the European Union and an essential element in the functioning of the single market. The single market can only function properly when there is a common application of common rules at its external borders. This implies that the 28 Customs administrations of the EU must act as though they were one.

These common rules go beyond the Customs Union as such - with its common tariff - and extend to all aspects of trade policy, such as preferential trade, health and environmental controls, the common agricultural and fisheries policies, the protection of our economic interests by non-tariff instruments and external relations policy measures.

This is the alternative text of the image.Today, customs are facing new challenges: they must ensure the smooth flow of trade whilst applying necessary controls on the one hand, whilst guaranteeing protecting the health and safety of the Community's citizens. To achieve the correct balance between these demands, customs procedures and control methods must be modernised and co-operation between the different services must be reinforced. For this reason, the Modernised Customs Code (Regulation (EC) No 450/2008) was adopted in April 2008 and replaced by the Union Customs Code.

In order that the EU's economy can continue to compete in a global context, it is essential that customs IT systems are able to exchange electronic information and are provided with a range of interfaces with the trade, based on commonly used technology. In order to improve the interoperability between Member States' automated customs systems, the Council and the European Parliament have adopted a Decision on a paperless environment for customs and trade.

› A new role for Customs today

Customs are in a unique position today to be able to

  • facilitate trade and
  • protect the interests of the European Union and its citizens.

Customs authorities implement EU policies in almost every field connected with international trade. They are in the front line in the fight against fraud, terrorism and organised crime.

Until recently, the role of the customs consisted primarily of collecting customs duties and indirect taxes at import. Numerous developments, including enlargement and the development of e-commerce and the threat of terrorist attacks and the internationalisation of organised crime, have altered the environment in which customs operate.

To effectively assume these roles customs maintain a continuous dialogue with stakeholders. In this context, consultation with the business sector has been enhanced. Trade associations are regularly invited to seminars and working groups to give their input to the development of new policy and legislative initiatives. For example, the Trade Contact Group, in which all major players in the international supply chain are represented, has been established.

› The mission of customs authorities is described in the Union Customs Code

Customs authorities shall be primarily responsible for the supervision of the Community's international trade, thereby contributing to fair and open trade, to the 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 the following:

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

› A strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union

The Commission adopted a Communication on 1 April 2008 (see COM (2008) 169 ) in order to develop a strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union.

The Commission's strategy aims to complete the reform process, already launched with the Modernised Customs Code and the Decision on a paperless environment for customs and trade, by modernising customs working methods, developing staff competences and re-allocating resources in an efficient and effective way.

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The Commission proposes setting out a strategic framework for customs with common strategic objectives covering aspects such as:

  • Protecting society and the EU's financial interests by developing effective measures against illicit, restricted and prohibited goods and developing effective risk assessment as part of the fight against terrorist and criminal activity;
  • Supporting the competitiveness of European companies by modernising customs working methods and developing new EU standards;
  • Facilitating legitimate trade by designing and improving control systems to reduce interference in the flow of goods, and reducing the administrative burden on businesses;
  • Controlling and managing the supply chains used for the international movement of goods by enhancing effective and systematic sharing of risk information;
  • Developing and enhancing cooperation between customs authorities and with other governmental agencies and the business community.

The complete list of objectives can be found in the Communication on the Strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union (see COM (2008) 169 ). See also press release IP/08/492 .

› Further information related to the Strategy for the evolution of the Customs Union

› The State of the Customs Union

In its Communication on the State of the Customs Union the Commission takes stock of the success of the EU customs Union, the challenges it faces, and sets its priorities for the years to come (see COM/2012/791 ). See also the press release ( IP/12/1441 ).

› Useful links