30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 110/72


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code’

(COM(2003) 452 final – 2003/0167 (COD))

(2004/C 110/13)

On 4 August 2003 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 2 February 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Simpson.

At its 406th plenary session of 25 and 26 February 2004 (meeting of 26 February 2004), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 67 votes, with one abstention.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has taken a close interest in the evolution of customs policies as they apply to the import, export, and transit trade of the European Union and has supported the changes designed to enhance the role of the customs authorities in the discharge of their responsibilities including the need to enhance the advantages of the internal market by minimising any delays or disruption in the enforcement of the Community Customs Code (1).

1.2

The EESC shares the ambitions outlined by the Commission in this publication on the merits of a simple and paperless environment in which customs functions can be administered more effectively and efficiently.

1.3

The Committee also acknowledges the changed emphasis in the strategic approach to customs services' policies with the recent additional and merited emphasis on the challenges of the application of common customs policies across a series of new external borders following the enlargement of the Union. It also acknowledges the changed environment created by the raised concerns about security procedures, particularly with regard to the experience of the USA, to protect citizens in the Union.

1.4

The EESC therefore welcomes these communications from the Commission and endorses the amendments proposed to the Community Customs Code through the revision of Regulation 2913/92.

2.   Communication: a simple and paperless environment

2.1

This communication illustrates the constructive role that can be played by the Commission in coordinating and improving the several customs procedures of the Member States. Each Member State retains responsibility for the administration of the customs services yet each of the Member States will benefit if the procedures are logical and designed to facilitate cross-border cooperation.

2.2

Ideally, the procedures should be harmonised to enhance the impact of the Single Market operating with no internal frontiers and applying an agreed administrative framework for the customs services.

2.3

Not only does this harmonisation depend on various degrees of mutual cooperation in administration and agreement on verification mechanisms, but it can be further enhanced if documents are standardised and transmission methods are modernised.

2.4

There is no surprise, therefore, that the Commission has set out the principles for simplification and the application of e-Europe concepts in a review to determine methods of better regulation of customs services.

2.5

Particularly, but not only, because of the new emphasis on the role of customs services in assessing security risks posed by terrorism and the trade in dangerous, or offensive, or fraudulent goods, the harmonisation of customs procedures is not only an exercise in the simplification of documentation and information. Customs services must now use appropriate risk analysis to determine the degree and methods of surveillance to identify and deter evasion of customs checks and also to identify materials that pose wider security risks.

2.6

These responsibilities must be accepted in a manner that also recognises the objective of facilitating trade within the Union, particularly acknowledging the extra difficulties following the enlargement of the Union, and between the Union and other trading nations. Enhanced vigilance must be balanced with improved methods that are agreed for all the Member States of the Union.

3.   The Commission proposals for a simpler and paperless environment:

3.1

The Commission has invited the Council and Parliament to endorse five strategic goals. These are:

3.1.1

Customs procedures to be fully revised and radically simplified, integrating modern techniques, including extensive use of IT and of risk analysis.

3.1.2

Customs work to be organised so that traders can benefit from the Internal Market, i.e. irrespective of the place where a customs procedure begins or where it ends.

3.1.3

Customs intervention should ensure that the Internal Market functions properly and that no barriers, including those of a digital nature, are introduced or maintained.

3.1.4

Customs controls are of equivalent intensity and reliability at the EU's external borders especially where the protection of our society and its security is at stake. This requires common risk management.

3.1.5

Customs IT systems operated by Member States offer everywhere the same facilities to traders and should be fully inter-operational.

3.2

The achievement of these strategic goals obviously depends on acceptance of the principles by all of the 25 Member States and their uniform application.

3.2.1

The Commission points to the logic of an early implementation of a paperless environment as documents are accepted using the facilities available to assist e-commerce and e-administration.

3.2.2

All Member States should introduce arrangements for the exchange of information using digital technology. This technology should be devised to avoid differences between Member States that would create digital barriers. Systems should be co-ordinated to ensure compatibility and connectivity.

3.2.3

The Commission has also identified some basic principles to simplify customs administration. Border controls would be limited mainly to security aspects of customs verification and other controls should be shifted to the customs authorities responsible for the trader's premises. This would reduce the risks of fraud and non-compliance.

3.2.4

The Commission sees itself as a necessary catalyst in the design and introduction of these changes. The needs are assessed as those of securing inter-operability through the further development of the e-Europe 2005 initiative. They also see a need for an understanding of the relevance and application of the ‘better regulation’ initiative outlined in the White Paper on European Governance.

3.3

The beneficiaries from improved customs services would include:

3.3.1

society; through enhanced protection:

by assisting consumers through the protection against goods that are dumped, subsidised or counterfeit,

by protecting public health and the environment by deterring or preventing the import of dangerous substances,

by acting against criminal activities such as money laundering, illegal trade in arms, or child pornography,

by detecting fraud in the evasion of indirect taxation,

by promoting regional integration through preferential trade links;

3.3.2

businesses; through easier and more efficient customs services:

through more efficient customs services,

improved facilitation of trade transactions, particularly where the point of import, or export, is distant (and across the borders of Member States) from the point of destination, or origin,

by enhancing the degree of uniformity in the application of customs law,

by enabling the use of a single entry point for customs declarations (enhanced by the existing provisions for transit from the point of entry to the destination),

through simplification and standardisation of information requirements and simplified administration procedures,

through a reduction in the need for physical controls by the use of appropriate risk analysis techniques.

4.   General comments from the EESC on the communication on a simpler and paperless environment for customs services

4.1

The EESC fully accepts the strategic goals as formulated by the Commission for the improved customs services environment.

4.2

There is, understandably, a tension between efforts to simplify and facilitate trade in contrast to the need to improve the standards of enforcement. This tension calls for greater clarity of objectives, risk assessment to identify the need for closer or more relaxed supervision, and assurance that common standards are enforced across all the external borders of the Union.

4.2.1

The Committee acknowledges that customs supervision now needs, in the wake of events in the USA on 11 September 2001, to take account not only of breaches of trading regulations and customs duties but also the need for enhanced security protection to deter terrorist activity.

4.3

The Committee has noted the more detailed administrative proposals that the Commission is going to discuss with the relevant representatives of the Member States in the preparation of an Action Plan.

4.4

The basic principles are logical and desirable. In particular, the Committee notes the focus on:

acting, across the Community, (de facto) as a single administration,

sharing risk related data,

maximising the common rules and data requirements,

introducing a Single European Authorisation procedure to enhance suspensive arrangements,

reducing the 13 existing customs treatments (procedures and paperwork) into a group of three types (import, export including re-export, and suspensive arrangements),

sharing data electronically,

setting a transitional timetable for a move from paper-based systems to electronic systems,

enhancing the inter-operability of national systems,

quicker release of goods aided by traders following agreed procedures on notification (and pre-notification),

agreement on the rights and responsibilities of traders and freight forwarders.

4.5

The Committee has noted the six proposals for action under this enhanced e-customs programme and welcomes the ambitious timetable for discussion and later implementation.

4.6

The Committee wishes to draw two specific features of these principles to the attention of the Commission. First, the Committee endorses the emphasis on the potential use of the ‘new technologies’ [ICT] and suggests that the Commission should specifically develop an extension of the IDA project to assist the administration of customs services. (2) Second, and in a cautionary restraint on the application of ICT systems, the Committee has a concern that the sharing of data electronically should pay particular regard to the need for business, personal and commercial confidentiality for traders.

5.   Communication: The role of customs in the integrated management of external borders

5.1

In this second communication, the Commission has asked the Council, Parliament and the EESC to endorse a series of measures to improve the integrated management of the external borders. These proposals further develop the strategy for the Customs Union that was endorsed by Council Resolution in June 2001 (3). This communication is a direct sequel to the earlier communication from the Commission, May 2002, on the integrated management of the external borders (4).

5.2

The aim of the communication is ‘to give customs and the other authorities responsible for managing goods at the external border, the resources needed to combat any risk to the Community's safety and security in a coordinated manner’. (5)

5.3

The Commission asks for support so that the proposals for implementation can be presented without delay. The Commission acknowledges that it is acting as a catalyst for actions throughout the Community. In addition there is an acknowledgement that the implementation of the proposals will require financial commitments at Community level to help to secure the refinement of administrative systems to enhance interoperability taking particular account of the needs of the new Member States.

5.4

The Guidelines for the discussion of these changes are based on five groups of proposals. These are to:

i.

rationalise the number of customs controls at customs border posts,

ii.

introduce a common approach to goods-linked risks and implement it using common collaboration and cooperation mechanism,

iii.

guarantee an adequate level of human resources and equipment at external borders,

iv.

set up a legal and regulatory framework integrating the security dimension of customs work,

v.

introduce closer cooperation with the police, border guards and other authorities at external borders,

6.   General comments on the communication on the integrated management of external borders

6.1

The first two guidelines (in point 5.4) are developments of the ambitions expressed in the earlier discussion (see above) on the introduction of a simpler and paper-free environment for customs services.

6.1.1

The EESC notes the use, by the Commission, of the word ‘rationalise’ in reference to the number of customs posts. Given the various priority tasks to be examined, the Committee would prefer the Commission to seek to optimise the number rather than adopting an approach that may seem to be less sensitive to changing needs.

6.2

The other three guidelines take the discussion into topics that embrace other services as well as customs services and propose cooperative models of operation that make for a strengthened administration at the external borders.

6.3

The proposals to attempt to provide adequate human resources and equipment are a logical ambition for the Community but the detailed suggestions carry extra costs that would particularly fall heavily on the new Member States. If there is a Community interest in securing improvements at external borders, then a dedicated financial instrument would be desirable. This, in turn, opens the door to consideration of the extension of the limits of Community responsibilities.

6.4

Not only is there a case for the Community to provide financial support to facilitate the enhanced policies as they affect new Member States, the Commission also proposes further developments in common training measures for customs staff, steps to identify best working practices for security at external borders, and rapid-reaction teams to deal with unexpected risks.

6.5

These needs, and opportunities, demonstrate that there is a strong case to enhance the ability of the Commission, on behalf of the Community, to have greater authority to deal with these issues. In particular, the Committee is in favour of the introduction of Community inspections to make sure that customs coordination is effective at the EU's external borders.

6.6

The case for stronger cooperation and authority for the various agencies at external borders goes beyond only the customs services. The EESC commends the Commission for the identification of these needs but notes that improvements will essentially rely on good cooperative working arrangements between agencies that have shared responsibilities but are accountable to different national authorities and retain responsibilities that do not uniformly match those of the customs services.

6.7

The EESC endorses the suggestion that, for these important services, the Commission should promote responsibility-sharing agreements based on the mutual interests of the agencies.

6.8

The EESC welcomes the decision of the Council, on 5 November 2003, to endorse the Commissions proposals to strengthen the role of customs in managing security at the external borders and notes the request to the Commission to present all necessary proposals to implement this approach whilst paying special attention to the strengthening of the information exchange between all administrations and operators involved in international trade. (6)

7.   Regulation to amend Regulation 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code

7.1

The two communications from the Commission precede the publication of a draft Regulation amending Council Regulation 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code.

7.2

Since this draft Regulation reflects some of the main proposals in the two communications that can be assisted by a formal amendment to the Customs Code, and since the EESC welcomes the thrust of these proposals, the EESC welcomes most of the proposed amendments to the current Regulation.

7.3

The consistency and effectiveness of a Community-wide application of customs policies can only be improved by these measures. The Committee notes the legislative proposals that will clarify:

the wider concept of customs responsibility extending to other legislation relating to the import and export of goods and the co-ordination of actions with other formal authorities;

more precise definitions of terminology of ‘operators’;

putting responsibility on the Commission to establish a common risk management framework;

clarifying the use in exchanges of confidential data.

7.4

A key feature of the proposed Regulation is the introduction of a requirement that customs declarations should be presented before goods arrive. This links to the underlining of the principle that goods should be finally cleared by customs at a point where the trader is established, near to the declared destination, rather than at the external frontiers.

7.5

The Committee does, however, have a serious reservation about the ‘basic rule’ that a pre-arrival declaration must be lodged 24 hours before the goods are presented to customs. The Commission does acknowledge that trade in some categories of goods would be delayed, with critically disadvantageous effects, if this rule was applied to them. Examples are goods which are transported in a journey taking less than 24 hours.

7.6

The proposed wording of Article 36a of the Customs Code does offer the prospect of procedures to determine when the 24 hour requirement may be waived. The Committee suggest that the rules, setting out when 24 hour advance notification is required, should be clarified before the Code is amended so that the many areas where trade may be adversely affected are explicitly identified and appropriate compromise procedures formally adopted rather than being considered as ad hoc waivers to the basic rule. A general waiver should, however, be provided for exports by authorised economic operators as their procedures have already been checked when the authorisation was granted.

8.   Summary

8.1

These Commission Communications and proposed new Regulation offer a prospect of the enhanced application of a uniform customs code across the Community.

8.2

The proposed regulation amending the Community Customs Code will be consistent with the principles outlined in the two Communications only in the event of uniform implementation and only if this includes electronic systems.

8.3

The principles of a simpler and paperless environment for Customs and Trade are now logical and practical. They are also necessary if the internal market of the Union is to function without unnecessary handicap.

8.4

The principles of seeking to establish common customs standards at the external frontiers of the Union are inherent in the concept of the Union as a single trading area.

8.5

Also, the acknowledgement of the need for a co-operative framework to ensure maximum effectiveness of customs services, border policing, security surveillance and common risk management strategies is to be commended.

8.6

The EESC would wish to see the range of improvements to policies and services made effective as soon as possible.

8.7

In the absence of a Community responsibility for the delivery of customs services, these changes move closer to the framework of a single customs agency which can enhance the functioning of the Community.

Brussels, 26 February 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH


(1)  Committee Opinion on Customs 2007, C 241/8 of 7.10.2002.

Committee Opinion on Computerizing excisable goods, C 221/1 of 17.9.2002.

(2)  The EESC Opinion on the interoperable delivery of pan-European eGovernment Services commends the merits of the IDA and IDABC proposals [see TEN/154].

(3)  OJ C 171, 15.6.2001.

(4)  COM(2002) 233, 7.5.2002.

(5)  COM(2003) 452, 24.7.2003, p. 37.

(6)  ECOFIN Council conclusions, 5 November 2003