Taxation and customs union

Customs formalities for ships

The “Blue Belt” proposals

On 8 July 2013 the European Commission set out plans to further reduce customs formalities for shipping – reducing red tape and cutting delays in ports.

The underlying Blue Belt concept, according to which ships can operate freely within the EU internal market with a minimum of administrative burden, was the starting point for these initiatives. Blue Belt also means that safety, security, environmental protection as well as customs and tax revenues are ensured by an optimal use of existing capabilities to monitor maritime transport and the cargo concerned.

In its Communication "Blue Belt: a Single Transport Area for Shipping", the Commission sets out two key proposals which have an impact on the formalities for maritime commerce:

1. Facilitation and speeding up the authorisation procedure for the Regular Shipping Service;

2. Establishing an EU-wide harmonised electronic cargo manifest allowing for faster information exchange in ports and merging some of the formalities to be applied today individually, e.g. for the proof of the goods’ Union status .

The creation of the appropriate legal acts to establish a Blue Belt environment will be supported by modern ICT technologies.

What are the benefits?

  • Improving the sector's competitiveness through the reduction of administrative burden and costs;
  • Improving the attractiveness of maritime transport;
  • Stimulating employment;
  • Reducing the environmental impact of maritime transport.

Facts and figures

  • In the EU, 1 job aboard a vessel means 9 jobs on land;
  • An increase of 1 million tonnes passing through a port will lead to 300 more jobs;
  • 74% of the goods imported and exported by the Union transit through seaports;
  • 37% of the exchanges within the Union transit through seaports;
  • The EU has three ports among the 15 biggest ports in the world: Rotterdam is 11th, Hamburg is 14th, and Antwerp is 15th.

For further information see the Communication (COM(2013) 510 final ), the press release (IP/13/652) and the questions and answers (MEMO/13/658).


With key action 2 of the Commission communication "Single Market Act II, Together for new growth", the Commission committed to table a "Blue Belt" package to streamline and reduce administrative processes for EU goods transported in the maritime environment between EU ports in the internal market, compared to goods arriving from overseas ports.