ECA: Differing approaches to customs controls affect EU revenue

Customs controls are still insufficiently harmonised across Member States to properly safeguard the EU’s financial interests, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Despite recent steps in the right direction, the EU rules are not designed well enough to ensure that Member States select imports for control in a uniform way. In fact, they apply the rules very differently, which could allow operators to target EU points of entry with lesser controls. The auditors also warn that some Member States do not conduct the required risk analysis on all declarations, and that imports posing a higher risk may not be properly prioritised for control. 

“To prevent fraudulent importers from avoiding customs duties by targeting border entry points with lesser customs controls, the control selection procedures must be applied in a uniform manner throughout the Customs Union,” said Jan Gregor, the ECA member responsible for the report. “Currently, EU customs controls are not well harmonised, which hampers the EU’s financial interests.”

The Customs Union is important for EU trade, and customs duties on imports are a significant source of EU revenue. The European Commission is legally required to ensure that Member States apply customs controls in a similar way. In order to harmonise the way they select imports for control, the Commission recently adopted a customs financial risk framework, consisting of common criteria and standards as well as guidance, which has been endorsed by the Member States. The auditors acknowledge that the framework’s implementation is an important step towards uniform application of customs controls, which is essential for effective collection of customs duties. However, the auditors are also critical of the standards because they do not define the concept of risk well and are too lax, giving the Member States too much leeway in reducing controls. In addition, important features such as an EU-wide analysis of imports, appropriate datamining techniques, and methods to address financial risks for e-commerce imports are lacking.

Read the audit preview of The European Court of Auditors in its entirety here.