The EU Customs Union: facts & figures (2018)

The European Union Customs Union (EUCU) is a customs union which consists of all the member states of the EU, Monaco, the United Kingdom, and some dependencies of the United Kingdom which were not part of the EU. Some detached territories of EU members do not participate in the customs union, usually as a result of their geographic separation. In addition to the EUCU, the EU is in customs unions with Andorra, San Marino, and Turkey (with the exceptions of certain goods), through separate bilateral agreements.

As the EU Customs Union is responsible for enforcing rules designed to maximalize security within the union, customs authorities are in the front line in the fight against fraud, terrorism and organised crime, cooperating effectively with administrations and agencies responsible for other relevant policies with border and internal security implications.

Nearly 90.000 officials work around the clock at airports, border crossings, sea ports, inland customs offices or customs laboratories to manage the day-to-day operations of the Customs Union and to prevent illegal and/or dangerous goods from entering the EU.

The Customs Union protects citizens and organisations:

  • against the international trafficking of drugs, including the investigation of criminal organizations which make money of selling drugs. In 2018, the total amount of drugs seized by Customs in the EU amounted to 472 tonnes;
  • against the smuggling of tobacco and cigarettes, to stop dangerous and/or counterfeited tobacco products from being sold in the EU. In 2018, Customs seized almost 4.1 billion illegal cigarettes in the EU;
  • against the international trafficking of weapons, helping to dismantle criminal organizations and to combat terrorism. In 2018, EU customs seized more than 2.600 firearms, over 3.6 million pieces of ammunition and more than 476.000 pieces of explosives in the EU;
  • the health and safety of citizens by tackling counterfeit goods and piracy as well as the jobs of those who work for legitimate manufacturers:
    • On around 70.000 occasions, products suspected of violating intellectual property rightswere intercepted by the Customs in the EU
    • In 2018, more than 27 million articles were detained with an estimated value of nearly 740 million EUR;
  • the environment, our health and safety by enforcing the respective rules (e.g. stopping illegal import of protected wood, refusing entry of contaminated food or potentially dangerous electrical appliances). In 2018, Customs in the EU detected around 24.000 cases of goods presenting a risk for consumers in terms of health (sanitary, phyto-sanitary and veterinary technical standards). Almost 40 million items were identified as unsafe or uncompliant in terms of product safety;
  • endangered species by detecting illegal trade in ivory, protected animals, birds and plants and European cultural heritage by checking for smuggled art treasures:
    • 553 infringements of CITES regulations were detected
    • 117 cases were detected which did not respect the rules on exports of cultural goods;
  • the society by fighting against money laundering and the financing of terrorism by also controlling cash flows in the EU. Travelers entering or leaving the EU are obliged to declare amounts of cash valued at 10.000 EUR or more (or its equivalent in other currencies) to customs authorities. Concerning 2018:
    • Almost 93.000 cash declarations were submitted to Customs, amounting to more than 51 billion EUR
    • More than 12.000 cases of non-declared cash or incorrectly completed cash declarations were recorded, amounting to almost 330 million EUR;
  • the financial interests of the European Union by ensuring correct and efficient collection of duties, detection, investigation into and prosecution of fraud:
    • In 2018, national customs authorities detected an amount of 584 million EUR of unpaid duties to be returned to the EU budget;
  • the society by ensuring that exports of sensitive technology which could be used to make nuclear or chemical weapons are legitimate and have the appropriate export licenses;
  • the society by helping police and immigration services in the fight against human trafficking, drugs, pornography and fire arms – and other factors of organized crime and terrorism.


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