The EU customs union must not become a “two-speed” one, in which some member states enable businesses to complete customs formalities electronically, but others require them to do so on paper, said the Internal Market Committee on Tuesday. The committee also amended a proposed customs “action plan” to help member states to acquire high-tech equipment such as scanners.
The modernised EU Customs Code, theoretically took effect in 2008, but is not yet fully applicable, because not all its implementing arrangements are in place. The information technology used by customs administrations that can afford it has meanwhile continued to develop, so that the Customs Code itself now needs to be updated.
“With this vote we wanted to modernize and expand the EU Customs Union. It plays a fundamental role in the functioning of the single market which needs clearer and more modern common customs rules, at the same time also adapted to the needs of European businesses and to the challenges our customs administrations face” said Constance le Grip (EPP, FR), who is steering the resolution through Parliament. The text was approved in committee with 31 votes in favour, 1 against and 2 abstentions.
Electronic data interchange or two-speed union
MEPs approved proposed paper-free customs procedures and sought to prevent the “two-speed” customs union they fear could emerge if member states fail to introduce an electronic data interchange system between customs administrations and economic operators. Only in exceptional cases and for limited periods should this information be exchanged on paper, they said.
The resolution calls for more preferential treatment for “authorised economic operators” (AEOs), such as fewer checks at the point of import or export, automatic access to some simplified customs procedures or having their customs applications processed first.
If any member state tests ways to simplify its application of EU customs legislation, then their findings should be made available to all member states, say MEPs.
Given that the modernised customs system cannot work as it should without an adequate budget, the committee also examined a Commission proposal for an EU customs action programme including a support budget of €548 million. However, Parliament will not back this figure until it sees the final results of negotiations on the EU’s next 7-year overall budget.
“The Customs 2020 programme will deliver considerable benefits to EU citizens and business by helping to enable member states to block unsafe or illegal imports and to facilitate trade. This programme should cover technical capacity building and ensure a minimum amount for developing and maintaining IT systems. Both are vitally important to ensure effective protection of the EU’s external borders”, said the rapporteur Raffaele Baldassarre (EPP, IT).
MEPs proposed that at least 75% of Customs 2020 funds be earmarked for customs IT capacity building. The programme should also provided funding to help member states to buy and maintain high-tech gear such as scanners and laboratory equipment, they add.
Although the committee voted some amendments to theCustoms 2020 programme, it postponed its the final vote, on the programme as a whole, to its next meeting.
The committee will also decide in January 2013 whether to open informal negotiations with the Council with a view to reaching first-reading agreements on these two regulations.