EU to upgrade customs, border security with funding boost

The European Commission is proposing to triple funding to boost border security, channelling almost €35bn into the effort, as well as creating a new customs equipment fund.

The funding increase, proposed for the 2021-2027 budget, would address the increased security, mobility and migratory challenges the EU’s external borders face, such as the smuggling of illicit and counterfeit goods into the region, and in light of the pressure from the 2015/2016 refugee crisis.

The previous budget period directed €13bn towards border management and migration, with the new budget upped to €34.9bn. 

At the core of the new budget is the ability and flexibility to address unforeseen migratory events and border protection, the EC said.

The money will feed into two primary funds: a transformed Asylum and Migration Fund, and a new Integrated Border Management Fund, which will include the new Customs Control Equipment Instrument.

This latter funding instrument of €1.3bn will help member states carry out customs controls by financing and maintaining new customs control equipment and replacing old equipment with state-of-the-art tech such as new scanners, automated number plate detection systems, teams of sniffer dogs and mobile laboratories for sample analysis.

The instrument aims to fund equipment that is not intrusive but that allows customs controls to be performed efficiently and effectively, the EC said.

There are no existing financing tools for this purpose.

The funding, which will cover land, sea, air and postal borders and will be available to all member states, will also ensure more uniformity in customs controls across the bloc, with a task-force composed of voluntarily participating member states overseeing and assessing the equipment needs for each type of border.

The EC said the new customs instrument recognises the role customs authorities play in protecting the EU’s borders – sea, air, land and postal hubs – while facilitating trade and shielding citizens from dangerous and fake goods.

Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs, Pierre Moscovici said: “The EU’s 115,000 customs officials are on the frontline in protecting our citizens from counterfeit or unsafe goods and other forms of illicit trade. To support them in that vital task, we are proposing a new fund worth €1.3bn, for EU countries to acquire the most cutting-edge customs equipment. The EU’s Customs Union celebrates its 50th anniversary next month: we must ensure that it continues to go from strength to strength.”

Border management and migration have been a political priority for the EU in recent years but the scale and urgency of the refugee crisis took Europe by surprise, requiring a rapid mobilisation of funds to respond to the challenge. Meanwhile, other security threats have highlighted the need for additional funds. 

Counterfeit goods have continued to filter into the EU market, believed to represent about 5 per cent of imports. In 2014, 454.2 tonnes of drugs, 35 million counterfeit goods and 3.2 billion cigarettes were seized in the EU.

According to the Commission, the customs union of the EU is unique in the world, allowing for the creation of the single market. In 2015, the EU accounted for almost 15 per cent of world trade in goods, worth €3.5trn.

Managing this volume of international trade requires handling millions of customs declarations per year in a fast and efficient manner, while also checking for illegal trade and protecting EU consumers against goods that present a risk to health and safety, the EC said. “Appropriate controls require fast, high-quality and updated information and sound coordination among the customs administrations of our member states.”

The Customs Control Equipment Instrument will prioritise funding for equipment under specific eligibility criteria relating to at least one of the six following purposes: non-intrusive inspection; indication of hidden objects on humans; radiation detection and nuclide identification; analysis of samples in laboratories; sampling and field analysis of samples; and handheld search. It will also allow for the purchase for tech for pilot testing before large-scale roll out.

Under the current EU budget, border management falls under the umbrella of the Internal Security Fund (ISF), which is split into ISF-Borders and ISF-Police. The creation of a dedicated border management fund reflects the priority placed on border management and internal security.

The EU’s new funding for border management through the Integrated Border Management Fund represents a fourfold increase in investment from the current €2.7bn up to €9.3bn. 

As part of this fund, each member state will receive a fixed sum of €5m at the start of the financing period. After this, their individual allocations will be based on an assessment of where the funds are needed most based on workload, pressure and threat level at external land borders, external sea borders, airports and consular offices.

Meanwhile, a separate fund of €12bn for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will help strengthen the force with a new standing corps of around 10,000 border guards.

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