Brussels, 19 May 2011
Customs union: Commission asks Belgium to review the opening hours of its customs offices and the fees charged for certain operations
The European Commission has formally asked Belgium to comply with the customs rules of the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA), and in particular to amend its customs legislation so as to apply appropriate charges for certain operations carried out by customs officers, and to keep its customs offices open for at least the minimum periods established by the EEA Agreement. The Commission has therefore decided today to send a reasoned opinion to the Belgian authorities. A reasoned opinion is the second stage in the infringement procedure laid down in Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. If Belgium does not comply with European Union law within two months of the reasoned opinion, the Commission may decide to take the matter to the Court of Justice.
Under current Belgian customs legislation, importers and exporters who want to import or export goods from Belgium must in certain cases pay fees to the Belgian customs authorities, without any service having been provided in practice. Moreover, the method for calculating the fees for certain operations carried out outside office hours gives rise to charges that are excessive when compared with the real cost of the operations. In both cases, the amounts charged are comparable to charges having an effect equivalent to customs duties. Article 30 of the TFEU prohibits Member States from collecting charges having an effect equivalent to customs duties. Such charges are contrary to the Treaty because they interfere with the Common Customs Tariff and the uniformity of the common commercial policy.
In accordance with the EEA agreement concerning the simplification of inspections and formalities in respect of the carriage of goods, border crossing points should be open for at least ten consecutive hours from Monday to Friday and for at least six hours on Saturdays, except for public holidays, so that inspections and formalities relevant to the goods can be carried out.
The opening hours of customs offices at Belgium’s larger ports do not respect this agreement for trade in goods with member countries of the European Free Trade Agreement, even though Belgium, and in particular the port of Antwerp, is a port of entry to the European Union for goods from these countries.
The Commission can see no justification for restricting the opening hours of the customs offices concerned.
For press releases on infringement cases in the area of taxation and customs, see:
For the most up-to-date general information on the infringement proceedings initiated against Member States, see:
For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/11/312.