Sustainable Prosperity for Europe

Digital Single Market

eCustoms: undervalued building block of the Digital Single Market?

18 February 2013

Algirdas Šemeta, European Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud, said that the development of eCustoms in the EU was an enormous and long-standing endeavour. He said the EU’s eCustoms path had to some extent already been set, but warned that it must not be set in stone – because it would need to be adaptable to future technological and international changes.

Commissioner Šemeta said that all customs services in the EU relied heavily on ICT. Moreover, he said eGovernment had become a political priority with the Lisbon Strategy, making it obvious that customs should become paperless too.

From the late 1990s, most EU member states had individual strategies for eCustoms, which took into account national requirements. With member states locked into their own IT approaches, this way of operating maintained discrepancies between national customs rules and represented a barrier to the completion of the Single Market, recalled the commissioner.

He said eCustoms could boost business growth and improve the efficiency of public services. He said it served as an example of how EU action could inject dynamism into the economy.

Šemeta concluded by saying that eCustoms was more relevant and had more potential today than ever before, urging the EU to move forward while at the same time bearing in mind the need to continually evolve – because technology and politics would continue to develop and change in the future.

Josephine Feehilly, Chairman of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and head of the Irish Tax and Customs Administration, described eCustoms as the undervalued building block of the Digital Single Market.

Feehilly said the Irish EU Presidency was working very hard to ensure the delivery of a unified customs code by June. She said single European authorisation “can and does” work, but stressed the need to “sort out” VAT rules too. She argued that EU governments must collaborate to save money, for example by taking part in joint tendering processes.

She stressed the importance of planning for the future while at the same time delivering the present. Without harnessing the power of cloud computing, Europe risked building something that would soon be obsolete, she warned.

Jérôme Fournel, Director-General of the French General Directorate of Customs and Excise (DGDDI), said that a genuine Digital Single Market would require harmonisation of the other processes linked to eCustoms too.

He called for more exchanges of information between EU countries and the introduction of certificates of origin in order to facilitate exports.

Norbert Kouwenhoven, Customs Solutions Leader at IBM, said that the European customs system was taking shape, and in fact was in pretty good shape already. But he warned that other economies were moving even faster and had already matched or even outdone some EU member states in terms of trade facilitation.

There were many differences in import costs between EU member states, he said, claiming that they were three times higher in Poland than they were in the Netherlands.

If member states could resolve these differences, then the EU would easily lead the world in terms of trade facilitation, the IBM representative argued, calling on policymakers to adopt a trader’s perspective and make it easier to do business in Europe.

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