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On 13 December 2013, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive to provide for and enforce uniform sanctions for breaches of customs law in the Member States. At present, it is up to each Member State to decide when and how to sanction a breach of customs law. Significant differences in the level of penalties and limitation periods led to distortions of competition in the internal market.

The Commission’s proposal for a directive now distinguishes between different types of infringements and provides for graduated sanctions for them. These relate to the customs value of the goods concerned (from 1% to 30%) or amount to up to EUR 45 000 if there is no specific reference to the goods. An infringement should regularly become statute-barred after four years.

It remains to be seen how the Member States will react to the Commission’s initiative. It is doubtful whether the EU is even entitled to impose fines. Moreover, the setting of uniform sanctions would impose severe restrictions on the autonomy of the Member States.

With the entry into force of the new Union Customs Code in May 2016, the customs debt as such will no longer have the effect of a sanction. Therefore, it will expire in certain circumstances in minor cases. The sanctions already in place in the Member States or proposed by the Commission will therefore play an even greater role in the future.


Lawyer Dr. Tristan Wegner

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