24 official languages, 28 Member States, diverse mentality, one customs code. No wonder EU public administrations are struggling between diversity and uniformity. This struggle materializes at the level of applying customs sanctions, a power largely left at national level whereby relating to a fundamental piece of legislation to be uniformly applied. Let us look at the current attempts to resolve this issue.
A glimpse of today’s situation
Currently Member States have widely differing definitions for customs infringements, and apply different types and levels of sanctions. For example, 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 €266 to €50 000, according the country it occurs in. National time limits for sanctioning customs offences also vary widely, from 1 to 30 years, while some Member States have no time limit at all.
In the absence of a common approach, businesses experience legal uncertainty in connection with their trade flows. Furthermore, an undesired ‘competition’ among Member States may also evolve.
On 13 December 2013 the European Commission proposed a framework to harmonize customs infringements and align the 28 national sets of related sanctions. The proposed Directive sets out acts that must be considered infringements of the Union’s customs rules. The listed acts (e.g. non-payment of customs duties, failure to declare goods to customs, falsifying documents to obtain preferential treatment) are differentiated by the level of severity, and some are categorized as to whether there was intent or negligence.
The proposal also sets out a scale of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. These sanctions may range, depending on the infringement, from a fine of 1% of the value of goods for inadvertent or administrative errors, to a fine of 30% of the value of the goods for the most serious breaches. A flat-rate cap is also proposed for breaches not relating to specific goods.
When applying sanctions, Member States must also consider the nature and circumstances, as well as the frequency and duration of the infringement and the amount of evaded duties. It will also be of relevance whether a “trusted trader” is involved. Furthermore, harmonized time limits are set for pursuing breaches.
You will find further information under the following link: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/index_en.htm
Will it help?
As President Barroso explained in his ‘State of the Union’ speech on 11 September 2013, “The EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things.” The current proposal is envisaged to result in a more uniform and effective application of EU customs law in every part of the EU and thus, is warmly welcomed by the customs community.
However, as always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We shall see what the Commissioners cooked for us this time.