In a communication dated 21 December 2016, the European Commission lays out its long-term strategic vision for the management of the Customs Union, one of the basic pillars of the European Union. The executive of the European Union sees an increased role of customs in ensuring safety and security in the EU and promotes more harmonization and integration, specifically to respond to common threats operating across borders.

The Commission´s plan

Against the background of the recently introduced Union Customs Code (UCC), the Commission identifies, in particular, the following areas for its advancement of the Customs Union:

  • Policy formulation and implementation of the UCC: Policy coordination between the Member States shall be improved – also in relation to other policy areas that affect and expand customs’ tasks; high operational cooperation and the uniform application of the (common) customs legislation adopted at EU level across all Member States shall be fostered. The impact of implementation of the legislative environment shall be monitored and analyzed.
  • National authorities “acting as one”: In addition to developing a common understanding across the Member States on how to implement, i.e. apply the UCC, cooperation of the Member States in the areas of human resource development and training shall be improved. Collaboration between the national customs authorities shall be reinforced by use of best practices and common systems.
  • New European IT systems: Throughout its plan, the Commission attributes particular importance to the development of common EU IT systems. Against the background of the intended seamless customs operations across the EU and the aim of cost effectiveness, it advocates a common view on services developed and maintained at EU and national level.
  • Coordination between customs and other policy areas: The Commission highlights the involvement of customs in various different areas beyond trade policy and tariff application including, among others, security, the fight against terrorism, product safety, environmental protection and intellectual property rights. Accordingly, coordination with other enforcement agencies such as EUROPOL, the European Border and Coast Guard (previously “Frontex”) and the tax authorities shall be pursued and enhanced to fight organized and serious international crime. Also in this context, the Commission attributes particular importance to the development of a common IT structure such as an “EU Single Window” enabling cross-border traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or via a single entity.
  • Tackling resource challenges: Special funding issues are triggered in particular by new non-intrusive detection and laboratory equipment (e.g. x-ray scanners) which are a relatively expensive but cost-efficient means of control. The Commission intends to address this issue in its upcoming impact assessment and will continue to support funding such means under the EU Structural Funds

The example of Customs Enforcement of IP Rights

The Commission’s impetus to the management of the Customs Union as a whole must appear all too familiar to the IP Community. The recent actions of the European Union towards harmonization and more unified enforcement of IP rights point in the same direction. In particular, the EU Regulation concerning customs enforcement of intellectual property rights and its implementation by the Member States appears almost like a pilot for the Commission’s vision of the future Customs Union. For example, the following measures exist under the current pan-European customs enforcement regime:

  • One-stop handling of administrative actions by national offices with effect for the entire Union (such as Union applications for customs action)
  • Handling of cases according to the same procedural rules in all EU Member States (such as the basis procedure for detention of goods suspected to infringe IP rights)
  • Exchange of information across borders by means of a common IT structure (such as the “COPIS” system).

It may prove useful for the ever-closer Customs Union envisaged by the European Commission, to take stock of the experiences made in the IP arena since the new Customs Regulation took effect in 2014. In particular, an assessment of the application of procedural rules (whether identical or otherwise) across the Union and the interoperability of EU and national IT systems, could be beneficial.