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 Full text 
Monday, 24 October 2016 - Strasbourg Revised edition

Union legal framework for customs infringements and sanctions (debate)

  Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the Commission. – Madam President, first of all I would to thank Mrs Kaja Kallas for her work, and the work of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), on the Commission’s proposal to set up a legal framework for customs infringements and sanctions.

I am happy to note that the Commission and Parliament share common objectives. These objectives are to ensure a proper enforcement of EU customs law and to provide a level playing field for our economic operators. Since the internal market was set up, EU customs legislation has been fully harmonised in a single legal act. However, the consequences of violating the common rules vary across the Customs Union. They depend on the 28 different legal orders and the administrative or judicial traditions of the Member States.

In the absence of a common approach, there is a patchwork of responses to those who break the rules. Currently, Member States have widely different definitions for customs infringements and apply different types and levels of sanctions. Sanctions for certain infringements range from small fines in some Member States to imprisonment in others. The financial threshold for deciding whether an infringement is criminal or not ranges from EUR 266 to EUR 50 000, according to the country where it occurs. National time limits for sanctioning customs offences also vary widely – from one to 30 years – while some Member States have no time limit at all. This results in a lack of legal certainty for businesses, possible competitive distortions in the internal market and unfair advantages for those who breach the law where sanctions are the lowest. This in turn impacts negatively on revenues and the enforcement of policies, such as consumer protection or agriculture, when goods are imported or exported. It also raises questions about the uniformity of the Customs Union, which is a key obligation of the EU as a WTO member.

The legislative proposal follows the adoption of the Union’s custom code, which came into force last May and which streamlines and modernises European customs rules and procedures. It is about building a common understanding among all Member States on how customs laws should be enforced. It is about trust and cooperation among EU Member States’ customs administrations with different administrative cultures and legal orders but the same mission. This is why we need an effective, proportionate and decisive system for customs infringements and sanctions in the European Union. For such a system to be efficient and credible, there needs to be a common framework established at EU level.

Nevertheless, this is politically sensitive for some Member States, as it touches upon their national competences. Therefore I must express my gratitude to the rapporteur, Mrs Kallas, who, together with the shadow rapporteurs, came up with the proposal for amendments, which in many cases actually improve the text proposed by the Commission. I also understand that the first reading has not yet been completed. I am happy to say that the Commission finds many of the proposed amendments acceptable, although there is certainly room for discussion around the exact wording needed to ensure legal clarity and consistency in this complex field.

Nevertheless, there are some issues of concern, and I will briefly mention some of them. For example, in the view of amendments proposed by IMCO to limit the scope of the directive to non-criminal offences, the definition of the scope and the links to criminal law should be further clarified to ensure legal certainty. In addition, this Directive may not be the best instrument to impose reporting obligations on the Commission on aspects of customs enforcement that do not stem from this directive.

However, at this stage I wish to reiterate the Commission’s flexibility and availability to discuss the improvements, as long as they maintain the objectives of, and add value to, the proposal. I would like to thank once again Parliament, and especially Mrs Kallas and IMCO, for the constructive approach to the proposal.

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