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Customs: the Commission is proposing to simplify administration and strengthen security at its external borders

European Commission - IP/03/1100   24/07/2003

Other available languages: FR DE

IP/03/1100

Brussels, 24 July 2003

Customs: the Commission is proposing to simplify administration and strengthen security at its external borders

A greater role for customs in managing security at the EU's external borders is the keystone of a new communication and proposal to amend the EU customs code from the European Commission. The Commission has also adopted another communication setting out an action plan for a thorough revision of customs procedures with twin aims of radical simplification and updating to make full use of the possibilities provided by IT. These are the first stages of a process that, over time, will provide the public with more effective protection from dangerous goods coming into the EU and promote trade.

“We must strike the right balance between the need for greater security and the legitimate concerns of traders regarding obstacles legal trade”, said Frits Bolkestein, European Commissioner for customs. “These new initiatives will enable European customs authorities to respond accordingly.”

Greater security for goods entering the EU

Obviously, traded goods can sometimes be dangerous; they can pose a threat to the health and wellbeing of European consumers. Considerations of this nature must be integrated into the daily work of customs authorities, without impeding the flow of goods crossing our external borders. Accordingly the Commission's communication sets out its plans to strengthen the role of customs.

First, the Communication points out that, in view of the danger of deliberate attacks, and the health, environment and public-safety risks associated with dangerous and illegal goods, security checks are not sufficiently harmonised, are too diversified and sometimes too slow to enable the authorities to respond to new threats.

The Communication therefore proposed that security checks be improved and reinforced. This would involve:

  • rationalising the work involved in checks at external borders by focusing on priority checks (such as checks to determine whether goods can be let in or not) at border posts;

  • establishing a common approach to risk management at external borders: for this, all public bodies responsible for the various aspects of the safety of traded goods (e.g. customs, veterinary-health services, environmental bodies and the police) will be called on to help establish criteria, and customs authorities in all Member States will need to apply the common approach homogeneously;

  • inducing traders and customs authorities to routinely send and process information electronically;

  • promoting cooperation and rapid exchange of information between all services responsible for the security of traded goods crossing the EU's external borders;

  • ensuring that all crossing points on the EU's external borders have the necessary equipment.

The Commission's plans to produce the Communication, which focuses on checks on goods, were announced in another Communication in May 2002, which dealt primarily with checks on people (see IP/02/661). The two Communications complement each other and together form the first stages of a global strategy, proposed by the Commission, for integrated management of the EU's external borders in response to the call for this made by the European Council in Laeken in December 2001.

Ensuring the same level of protection at all points of entry to the European Union

The purpose of the proposal for a Regulation amending the Community Customs Code is to bring together the basic concepts underlying the new security-management concept for the EU's external borders, such as a harmonised system for risk assessment. The Commission therefore is therefore proposing a number of measures to tighten security around goods crossing international borders. The measures will be good for customs authorities, good for the public and good for traders because they will mean faster and better targeted checks. The proposed measures would:

  • require traders to provide customs authorities with information on goods before they are imported into or exported from the European Union. This information would take the form of an electronic summary declaration. It would be used as a basis for selecting goods for checks even before they arrive at the border, thus enabling them to cross it more quickly when they do arrive. In the requirements it imposes, this measure is similar to the US's 24-hour rule (Canada is set to follow suit soon) but it can be implemented in a very flexible way so it responds to business's needs. Details will come in the provisions for implementing the Customs Code;

  • provide reliable traders with special, user-friendly options;

  • introduce a mechanism for the setting of risk-selection criteria that will apply throughout the Community;

  • introduce a computerised support system to help with implementation of risk management.

A simpler, paper-free customs environment

There are a number of reasons why customs procedures and customs checks have to be improved. Among these are: e-Europe, a political priority aimed at ensuring that Member States' Governments are accessible electronically; EU enlargement and the need for security. Above all, a redistribution of tasks is required between customs offices on the external border and offices inside the Community's customs territory. At the border, checks should focus on the security aspects of goods and whether they can be let in. Inside the territory, access to importers' and exporters' accounting information will make it easier to carry out commercial and fiscal checks.

The Communication proposes that customs procedures and checks be made more effective through simplification of customs legislation and better use of computers for customs procedures.

  • It suggests a radical reform of customs procedures to reduce their number, make it easier to keep track of goods, rationalise the guarantee system and make single authorisations the standard procedure (whereby an authorisation for a procedure issued by one Member State is valid throughout the Community).

  • It describes what has to be done to make Member States' electronic systems compatible with each other and to create a single, shared computer portal. This would facilitate communications between traders and customs and would make for faster and better exchange of information between European customs authorities.

  • It also suggests the setting up of an electronic one-stop shop for traders, who would then have to deal with just one body instead of three or four at present. Accordingly, information relating to any give import consignment would have to be sent only once.

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