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Tackling cigarette smuggling is the EU-wide priority in the customs field

11 December 2017

Under the Estonian Presidency the Council of the European Union has adopted conclusions on the fight against cigarette smuggling and illegal tobacco products. The Customs Cooperation Action Plan of the European Union has also been approved, giving high priority to combatting excise fraud, primarily the production of illicit cigarettes and illegal handling of mineral oils.
The conclusions were adopted at Customs Cooperation Working Party plenary and approved by Justice and Home Affairs Council at the end of last week. Member States adopted 16 conclusions on the fight against illegal tobacco products, including customs authorities’ capacity building through effective risk-management and the development of IT systems, systematic tracking over the materials needed for tobacco production and the supply chain of tobacco products, expanding international cooperation, the investigation of cash flow and recovery of criminal assets. Drafting the Council conclusions was preceded by a threat assessment on the basis of which a large-scale joint customs operation (14 participating Member States) was carried out this summer to detect illicit cigarettes. Thanks to effective information exchange between the participating countries nearly 20 million illicit cigarettes were seized in the course of the operation.
The agreed conclusions provide future policy orientation for the European Commission and the Member States in planning and implementing specific actions in the fight against illicit cigarette handling with a view to reducing damage amounting to 10 billion euros caused by smuggled cigarettes each year.
According to the head of the Customs Cooperation Working Party Ardi Mitt, Estonia as the state of the EU external border bears important responsibility for protecting people’s health and economy in the EU, while trade in illicit cigarettes is one of the main risk factors.  „The fight against cigarette smuggling is approved as an EU-wide priority through the Council conclusions, which is accompanied by relevant resource allocation in combatting fraud by national customs authorities” Mitt explained.    
Under the leadership of Estonia the Customs Cooperation Working Party also drafted a new Customs Cooperation Action Plan on the fight against fraud for the period from 2018 to 2019. The Action Plan includes combatting fraud in excise goods (illegal production of cigarettes and illegal handling of mineral oils), illicit trafficking in chemicals and explosive precursors, customs –related internet crime, illegal cross-border handling of cash, handling of counterfeit goods, coordination of activities between customs administrations’ cooperation units and better involvement of the customs authorities in the preparation of the EU serious and organised crime threat assessment.
„In this regard the two most important documents of the Estonian Presidency in the customs field on the fight against fraud have been approved and the relevant processes can move forward. The European Commission and the Member States will turn the initiatives set out in the Council conclusions into actions and the next Presidency together with action leaders can start implementing them,” Mitt said.
Customs Cooperation Working Party consists of the representatives of national customs administrations from all the 28 member states and Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union of the European Commission (DG TAXUD), Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME), European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) and The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (EUROPOL).
Within the framework of the Estonian Presidency the Estonian Tax and Customs Board also led the Working Party on Customs Union, which drew up the Council conclusions on the way forward to developing the EU customs IT systems, approved by the EU economic and finance ministers at the beginning of November. The working party has drafted the Member States’ wording of the regulation on controls in the import of cultural goods related to the prevention of terrorist financing. Discussions on the text redaction are continuing for the remaining time of the Estonian Presidency as well as during the next Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.