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IP/09/ 1766

Brussels, 20 November 2009

Manufactured tobacco: Commission asks France to abolish its strict quantitative limits on private individuals' tobacco purchases in other Member States

The Commission has asked France to amend, within two months, its legislation and administrative practice regarding the movement and holding of manufactured tobacco purchased by private individuals in other Member States for their own needs. The legislation and practice in question are an obstacle to applying the principle of free movement of goods in the internal market. The request has been made in the form of a reasoned opinion, the second stage of infringement proceedings under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. If France does not amend its legislation and practice within the time limit stipulated, the Commission may decide to bring the matter before the Court of Justice.

French legislation lays down strict quantitative limits on the movement (1 kg) and holding (2 kg) of manufactured tobacco on French territory. The checks carried out are especially aimed at products bought by private individuals in other Member States.

The free‑movement principles governing the internal market and Directive 92/12/EEC provide for the possibility of private individuals buying in one Member State products subject to excise duties, such as manufactured tobacco, and transporting them to another Member State without having to pay additional tax, provided that the products are intended for the private individuals' own needs and are transported by them. By contrast, goods held for commercial purposes are subject to excise duties in the country where they are held.

In order to determine whether tobacco is being held for a private individual's own needs or for commercial purposes, the Member States must take into account a number of criteria. They may establish indicative quantitative levels, but only as an element of proof and as one criterion among others.

The Commission considers that France is infringing Community law:

  • by using a purely quantitative criterion to assess whether private individuals are holding manufactured tobacco from another Member State for commercial purposes;

  • by applying that criterion to each vehicle (not each person) and generally for all tobacco products;

  • by providing for disproportionate penalties;

  • and by simply preventing private individuals from importing tobacco products from another Member State if the quantity exceeds 2 kg per individual vehicle.

Citizens who wish to obtain redress in individual cases may if necessary have their rights enforced before the relevant national courts. The purpose of the proceedings instituted by the Commission is to have the national provisions which do not comply with Community law amended for the future.

This case is being dealt with by the Commission under number 2006/4192.

Information for travellers on buying goods in another Member State is available at:

Press releases on infringement proceedings in the field of taxation or customs can be consulted at:

The latest general information on infringement proceedings instituted against Member States is available at:

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