New freight information system: EU Commission launches pre-declaration with risk analysis

For „safety and security“ purposes, imports into the European Union must be pre-declared in future. This advance data contains information on all persons, companies and means of transport involved in the sale, transport or shipment of the goods.

In two years at the latest, all persons wishing to enter the European Union will have to provide information on the purpose, duration and approximate course of their journey before they start. This „Travel Information and Authorisation System“ will be supplemented by an „Entry/Exit System“, which will document the actual border crossing. In the process, travellers must deposit their biometric data. For the risk analysis, the systems query relevant EU databases, an algorithm searches for anomalies in the data records.

Yesterday, the EU Commission introduced a similar advance procedure for customs with the „Import Control System 2“ (ICS2). In future, all goods to be imported into the EU customs territory must be declared in a cargo information system. It is intended to serve „security and safety“ and to help customs authorities „intervene at the most appropriate point in the supply chain“. Goods whose consignors or consignees have previously been conspicuous can then be checked more deeply, for example.

„Minimum set of advance electronic data“

The electronic pre-departure declaration is part of an „integrated EU approach to reinforce customs risk management“. Under the Union Customs Code, all goods entering, transiting or leaving the EU customs territory, including goods carried by or on persons, are subject to risk-based customs supervision.

The ICS2 requires the submission of a „minimum set of advance electronic data“ to be filed in an electronic Entry Summary Declaration (ENS). The pre-submitted information includes data on all persons involved in the sale, transport or shipment of the goods, as well as details of the companies where the cargo was packed or stored and the means of transport used. Those who do not use ICS2 risk having shipments stopped and not cleared. „Inadequate declarations“ may be rejected, and continued non-compliance may result in sanctions.

ICS 2 concerns courier and mail services in air transport in a first phase. The aim is to identify threats to aviation security; a Commission communication mentions parcel bombs, for example. In a second phase, this procedure will be extended in two years to all operators of air freight services and forwarders. Finally, in phase 3, goods imported by sea or land will also have to be declared from 1 March 2024.

The three phases for the introduction of ICS2 (EU Commission).

One billion postal and express consignments per year

Foreign trade, and with it imports and exports to and from the EU, continues to grow. More than 300 million freight shipments are expected annually on all transport routes, plus up to one billion postal and express consignments. Around 114,000 customs officers work at the more than 2,000 customs offices at airports, border crossings, ports and internal borders in the EU. The national authorities also operate 90 customs laboratories. Their tasks include the control of illegal and/or dangerous goods, including prohibited narcotics, suspicious foodstuffs, explosives or large amounts of cash.

Unlike in the area of external border management or police cooperation, there is no central EU agency in the customs area. Instead, the customs authorities of the member states, which the Commission calls the „guardians“ of the EU borders for the „flow of goods“, are to „act as a single authority“ as a Customs Union. To this end, a Council Working Party on Customs Union (CUWP) advises on customs law issues, including the constantly updated definition of customs regulations and tariffs. Customs duties are generally paid where the goods first arrive. The revenue generated from this is considered the EU’s „traditional own resources“ and covers around 14 percent of the total budget.

Joint operations with Europol and Frontex

For operational cooperation, the customs authorities involved coordinate in the Council Working Party on Customs Cooperation (CCWP). In the area of Justice and Home Affairs, they work closely with the Council’s „Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security“ (COSI) and with the agencies Europol and Frontex. Customs and police authorities agree on „Joint Action Days“ for targeted surveillance and control actions along certain trade routes or in relation to certain goods.

For „practical cooperation and coordination“ between customs administrations, the Council has also set up teams of experts for different regions. For example, the CELBET group is responsible for the eastern and south-eastern external customs borders. Similar groups exist for the responsible authorities of the external land borders and the major ports and airports. The Land Border Contact Group (LFCG) brings together 16 countries with EU external land borders and oversees 250 border crossings.

More surveillance technology for customs authorities

EU customs authorities have their own information systems like the customs files identification database (SNE) which is run since 1995 by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). It records natural and legal persons suspected of having committed acts contrary to customs or agricultural legislation or a serious infringement of national legislation. Goods or means of transport for which an alert has been issued, as well as persons, are stored in the Customs Information System (CIS), which was set up in 1997 and is also managed by OLAF.

In principle, customs authorities can also consult the Schengen Information System (SIS II), the Visa Information System and Europol data. Customs systems will also be connected to the „Interoperability“ project, in which the EU is currently re-sorting and partially merging big databases in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.

Customs authorities will also receive additional financial support for control equipment from the EU Integrated Border Management Fund. This will support the use of new „modern techniques“ for customs, including detection technologies and non-invasive control equipment. According to the plans, customs authorities will in future participate as end-users in the security research projects in the Horizon 2020 framework programme, which are actually aimed at law enforcement authorities.

Image: EU Commission.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.