Administrative Assistance and Cooperation, enforcement measures

Administrative Assistance and Cooperation, enforcement measures

Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 provides for enforcement cooperation between national authorities.

The mechanisms for administrative assistance and cooperation aim to:

  • ensure that violations of EU agri-food chain legislation which have a cross-border dimension are effectively pursued not only in the EU country where the non-compliance is first detected but also in the EU country of dispatch, i.e. the State in which the source of the non-compliance is likely to reside;
  • guarantee that there be a rapid resolution of cross-border issues, that effective and proportionate actions be taken (e.g. punishment for all liable operators; increased inspections in the EU country of dispatch rather than a ban in the EU country of destination) and that equal treatment be assured for operators regardless of their origin.

Administrative assistance can comprise, inter alia, exchanges of information and documents, administrative enquiries and joint on-the -spot inspections. It is an important tool to maximize the efficiency of enforcement resources. In November 2015, the Commission launched a dedicated IT tool for the handling of cases that require administrative assistance to be deployed – the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation (AAC) system. This follows the positive opinion given by the EU countries at the meeting of the PAFF Committee – section Biological Safety of the Food Chain of 15 September 2015 on the Commission Implementing Decision establishing the AAC system.

In the first phase, access to the AAC system will be reserved to the Food Fraud Contact Points which compose the Food Fraud Network. At a later stage, the system will be made available also to the other Administrative Assistance and Cooperation liaison bodies.

When can administrative assistance be activated

In the three following circumstances:

  • upon request from an EU country​ when it needs information to verify compliance with EU requirements;
  • when a competent authority becomes aware of a non-compliance which may have implications in another EU country (in such cases it is required to inform that EU country​ without delay);
  • where official controls in an EU country identify a serious non-compliance or a risk to health on a good coming from another EU country (in such cases the EU countries of dispatch of the good should be informed without delay).

Once the administrative assistance mechanisms have been activated, the concerned EU countries have to investigate the matter, cooperate and take any measures necessary in accordance with the provisions of Title IV of Regulation 882/2004.

The Commission may intervene:

  • to coordinate action by the EU countries when it becomes aware of activities which are, or appear to be, contrary to food or feed law and when such activities have a particular EU relevance.
  • when EU countries are unable to agree on measures to address the non-compliance.

In terms of actions, the Commission may, in collaboration with the said EU countries​:

  • send an inspection team to carry out on-the-spot controls, or
  • request that the EU country of dispatch intensify official controls and report on action taken.

Current provisions on administrative assistance lack certain "operational" details as to how the assistance mechanisms should be applied in practice. These shortcomings have resulted in the provisions not being used to their full potential by the EU countries. The new proposal for a Regulation on official controls aims to correct this by establishing clear and easy to use procedures along with the necessary tools for their implementation.

Enforcement measures

National enforcement measures

When national competent authorities identify a non-compliance during official controls, they must take action to ensure that the operator remedies the situation. When deciding upon which action to take, the relevant competent authority must consider the nature of non-compliance and the operator's past record with regard to non-compliance.

Examples of possible enforcement measures at national level are described in Article 54 of the Regulation (EC) No 882/2004, and include:

  • withdrawal from the market;
  • destruction of a product;
  • closure of a business;
  • suspension of establishment's activities;

According to Article 55 of the mentioned Regulation, the EU countries are also required to lay down rules on sanctions applicable to infringements of EU food and feed law. Such sanctions should be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.

EU enforcement measures

Article 56 of Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official controls allows the Commission to take measures when there is evidence that there is a serious failure in an EU country's control system.

EU enforcement measures may include:

  • suspension of the placing on the market of certain feed or foodstuffs;
  • laying down of special conditions for certain feed or foodstuffs.

These measures are taken if Community controls have shown non-compliance with relevant legislation and the Member State concerned has failed to correct the situation upon request and within the time limit set by the Commission.

To date, the Commission has never made use of the measures provided in Article 56.