Taxation and Customs Union

EU Customs strategy

One minute of the EU Customs Union
To access the video in 22 language versions please click on

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. To achieve that,  the national customs administrations of the EU act as though they were one.

These common rules they apply 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.

Today, in an era where terrorism and other serious crimes operate on a cross-border and trans-national basis, customs authorities are increasingly called upon to carry out non-fiscal tasks aimed at improving internal EU security. The customs are thus facing new challenges: they must ensure the smooth flow of trade while applying necessary controls on the one hand, and also guarantee the protection of the safety and security of the Community's citizens on the other hand. 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 Union Customs Code (Regulation (EC) No 952/2013) entered into force on 1 May 2016.

The Union Customs Code puts emphasis on fully electronic communication between the customs administrations and with trade. As a result, a number of EU-wide IT systems will have to developed and deployed. The details can be found in the Union Customs Code Work Programme.

A new role for Customs today

Customs are in a unique position today to be able to

  • facilitate trade and
  • protect the financial interests of the European Union and its citizens and their safety and security.

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 State of the Customs Union

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.

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).

Developing the EU Customs Union and Its Governance

Following up on the State of the Customs Union, the Commission adopted a Communication on 21 December 2016 (see COM/2016/813 and the press release) to call attention to the need for a new impulsion to co-operation between customs authorities, supported by the Commission, to deliver the benefits of the ongoing changes, mainly in relation to the full implementation of the UCC.

The Communication stressed the need for a coherent overall policy development process involving Member States and the Commission (as well as other stakeholders where appropriate), built on a better structured analysis of the issues and a more formalised reporting. The customs role in relation to other policy areas would be reinforced through greater co-operation and the organisational issues around funding and long-term IT strategy will be resolved. The communication was also designed to allow an informed debate at a crucial moment in the development of the Customs Union and to inform the preparation of important decisions on financing and organisation for the years to come.

In March 2017, the Council of the European Union published conclusions welcoming the Communication and requesting a biennial report on progress in the individual areas mentioned.

The Commission in a First Biennial Report was able to report on progress in many areas linked to a better management of the Customs Union. At the same time, the Report identified issues for priority follow-up action as follows:

  1. Managing the withdrawal of the UK from the Customs Union
  2. Strengthening controls and tackling fraud 
  3. Greater use of monitoring of EU customs law
  4. Improving efficiency of customs administrations 
  5. Harnessing innovation 
  6. Optimising customs electronic systems and their use 
  7. Dealing with the challenges of e-commerce 
  8. Capitalising on the Customs Union to improve EU security
  9. Continuing to work on international relations.

The Council welcomed the First Biennial Report and invited the Commission to report in a second Biennial Report on developments in these nine priority areas. The second Biennial Report has been published on 28 September 2020.  

Useful links

  • Electronic Customs
  • The European Commission's Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has a substantial role to play in investigating customs fraud. For more information see OLAF's website.
  • Communication from the Commission on Customs Risk Management and Security of the Supply Chain (COM/2012/793).

The EU customs union: protecting people and facilitating trade