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5.1.4.  Customs cooperation in the EU

    The abolition of administrative procedures on crossing the internal frontiers of the European Union  heightens the risk of fraud, if all the Member States do not apply equivalent control measures. Administrative cooperation must encourage a comparative level of checks, thus ensuring the uniform application of European law at every point of the EU external borders and guaranteeing mutual trust and equal conditions of competition. The efficiency of a customs union depends, indeed, as much on homogeneous rules as on the quality of its operational structures.

    Article 33 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU asks the European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, to take measures in order to strengthen customs cooperation between Member States and between the latter and the Commission. In fact, such measures are taken both in the context of the customs union and of justice and home affairs cooperation [see section 8.1]. The Naples II Convention on Mutual Assistance and Cooperation between Customs Administrations aims to crack down on the proliferation of illicit trafficking in breach of national and European provisions by making customs cooperation faster and more effective [Convention and Council Act]. The Council Regulation on the mutual assistance between the Member States' administrations and on their collaboration with the Commission aims to step up fraud prevention, ensure the proper application of customs and agricultural regulations, providing inter alia for the administration of a computerised "customs information system" (CIS) [Regulation 515/97, last amended by Regulation 2015/1525]. The aim of the joint automated information system for customs purposes is to assist in preventing, investigating and prosecuting serious contraventions of national laws by making information available more rapidly, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the cooperation and control procedures of the customs administrations of the Member States [Decision 2009/917].

    The ISA2 programme’ (2016-2020) on interoperability solutions and common frameworks for European public administrations, businesses and citizens supports, inter alia, the single border free area [Decision 2015/2240]. It aims in particular to facilitate efficient and effective electronic cross-border or cross-sector interaction between European public administrations on the one hand, and between European public administrations and businesses and citizens on the other, and to contribute to the development of a more effective, simplified and user-friendly e-administration at the national, regional and local levels of public administration.

    Customs officials make up an important human network of the EU. Since they collect customs duties, which must be transferred to the Union budget [see section 3.4], and guard the external frontiers against illicit trading, the customs officers of the Member States act in fact in the name of the European Union and must apply the European law. They must be open to cooperation both among themselves and with the Commission in the spirit of Article 33 of the TFEU.

    Modern administrative management increasingly uses computerised methods. The computerised customs information system (CIS), mentioned above, purports to step up the fight against fraud at the Union's external frontiers. It is set up and maintained by the Member States' customs administrations to help prevent, detect and prosecute serious offences against national and European laws. A customs files identification database (FIDE) aims to enable the competent authorities of one Member State, when opening a file on or investigating one or more persons or enterprises, to identify the competent authorities of other Member States which are or have been involved in investigating the same parties [Protocol and Council act]. The electronic mail system, known as Scent (system for a customs enforcement network), is designed to pass urgent messages concerning cases of fraud. Updatings of the Union's integrated tariff multilingual database (Taric), which is managed centrally by the Commission [see section 5.2.1], are transmitted daily to the Member States by electronic data transfer (TARIC interface) and to traders via the Internet. A centralised system for automatic tariff quota management communicates electronically with national administrative departments (SIGL). The Internal Market Information System ("IMI") is a software application accessible via the internet, aiming to assist Member States with the practical implementation of information exchange requirements laid down in Union acts [Regulation 1024/2012, last amended by Regulation 2016/1191].

    The Council has decided to frame a strategy for customs cooperation under the third pillar as part of the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice [see sections 3.1 and 8.1], which would serve to protect society and the economy more effectively against smuggling and fraud, cross-border organised crime and money-laundering, threats to the environment and cultural heritage [Council Resolution]. A multiannual action programme for customs in the EC/EU (Customs 2020) supports and complements action undertaken by Member States in ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market in the customs field [Regulation 1294/2013].

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