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Parliamentary questions
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9 February 2011
Answer given by Mr Šemeta on behalf of the Commission
Question reference: E-011191/2010

1. The Commission would refer the Honourable Member to its reply to several previous parliamentary questions(1): E‑8231/10 for the payments made by the tobacco companies, and E‑9134/10(2) for the actions undertaken by the Commission and the European Anti-Fraud Office to fight cigarette smuggling.

The Commission is of the opinion that the Agreements with the manufacturers are working very well and are contributing to a significant decrease of these companies’ products on the EU market . However ‘illicit whites’(3) and counterfeit cigarettes are still penetrating the EU market.

2 and 3. While the Commission Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme does not address specifically the issue tabled by the Honourable Member, the results and effects of many of the envisaged actions listed in the action plan can be beneficial to it: the Commission would refer the Honourable member to all those actions and in particular those mentioned in chapter ‘Managing the flow of information’, ‘Mobilising the necessary technological tools’, ‘More effective European law enforcement cooperation’, ‘Protection against serious and organised crime’. Moreover, the Commission in its recent Communication ‘The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe’ recalled that in order to identify and disrupt criminal networks, it is essential to understand their members' methods of operating and their financing. The Commission would refer the Honourable member to all those actions and in particular those mentioned under the objective 1 (Disrupt international crime networks), 2 (terrorism) and 3 (Strengthen security through border management). Parliamentary Question E‑8231/10 also refers to this aspect.

Furthermore, discussions are currently on the way concerning the future plans to combat illicit smuggling of cigarettes at the EU external borders.

In addition OLAF is well advanced in the posting of a liaison officer in the Ukraine to work with the auhorities specifically on the illicit trade in tobacco products.

4. Since the 2004 enlargement there are significant differences in purchasing power parity and excise levels in the EU Member States. Simultaneously there are significant price differences between the EU and neighbouring third countries, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Russia and Belarus. On the one hand, high tax and price differentials between Member States result in considerable cross border flows of excisable goods within the EU, thus undermining tax revenue of high taxing countries. On the other hand, the differences between prices in the EU and in neighbouring third countries lead to significant smuggling from those countries.

On 1 January 2011 Directive 2010/12/EU(4) entered into force. This directive will lead to an adaptation of both the rates and the structure of the excise duties of manufactured tobacco products. This adaptation will include a gradual increase of the EU minimum levels applied and should achieve greater convergence between the tax levels and closer approximation of the retail sale prices of cigarettes and other manufactured tobacco products applied in the Member States. In this way, it will reduce the incentives for cross border shopping, fraud and smuggling within the EU and into the Member States. However, it must be noted that 8 Member States are allowed a transitional period until the end of 2017.

(3)Illicit white cigarettes: brands manufactured legitimately in one market, either taxed for local consumption or untaxed for export, and sold knowingly to traders who transport them to another country where the products are sold illegally without domestic duty paid.

OJ C 279 E, 23/09/2011
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