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 Full text 
Monday, 24 October 2016 - Strasbourg Revised edition

Union legal framework for customs infringements and sanctions (debate)

  Kaja Kallas, rapporteur. – Mr President, I would like first to thank all the colleagues, and especially the shadow rapporteurs, who have worked on this file for the very constructive manner in which we have dealt with it.

The Customs Union is not talked about enough but remains one of the successes of the European Union. We should not take it for granted, and we should not think there is no room for improvement. An important piece of the Customs Union is, for instance, missing: we have the same rules but we handle matters in a completely different way when companies or individuals break these common rules.

It might not have been such a big problem before, because some Member States have big ports while some other countries have smaller trade flows and less resources to control. But the modernised Customs Code brought about a trade facilitation measure with the Authorised Economic Operator status, which can be lost if a company commits a serious repeated infringement. A company might lose its status in country A, while still working in country B. This will create distortion of the market and unfair competition. In addition, in the digital age, we have to have the objective of creating new opportunities for small and medium—sized enterprises.

My goal in this report was quite different from the approach taken by the Commission as my focus was on improving compliance businesses with sometimes very complex rules, so that the system leads to fewer infringements and not more. Sanctions are the last resort when there is a lack of compliance, but the starting point cannot be that all companies are intending to break the rules. We need to treat the companies as partners. Circumstances matter and need to be acknowledged. So this has to be taken into account while determining the sanction.

I am really against the strict liability regime that is in place in several countries; it simply deters compliance. A strict liability regime also means that no degree of guilt needs to be determined, which raises a serious question of whether it respects the presumption of innocence. There should be a mix of non-criminal and criminal sanctions when it comes to infringements of customs law and there should be a greater effort by the Member States and the Commission to improve compliance, improve businesses’ knowledge of customs legislation.

Last, but not least, it is very important to make sure that the system is fair and proportionate. It is not a fair system if you are a small company trading high—value goods and the sanctions kill your business because of your type of trade. Sanctions need to be about the consequences of the infringement and not strictly about the value of the goods.

I am very happy that Parliament has decided to take this file seriously. It is a very different matter in the Council, where they refuse convergence of a sanction system as a principle. Therefore, I hope that the Council will be a bit more constructive and will decide to work on this important pillar of the Customs Union, that is in compliance with European Union law.

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