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The EU Single Window Environment for Customs – a path towards streamlined customs controls and trade facilitation through enhanced cooperation between authorities at the EU borders

On 28 October 2020, the European Commission proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders. The “EU Single Window Environment for Customs” will enhance cooperation and coordination between different authorities, and will support the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

Each year, the Custom Union facilitates the trade of more than €3.5 trillion worth of goods. Efficient customs clearance and controls are essential to allow trade to flow smoothly while also protecting EU citizens, businesses and the environment. The EU Single Window Environment for Customs is a future-looking digital solution for quicker and more efficient sharing of electronic data between different government authorities involved in goods clearance at the border. Once fully rolled out, the Single Window will also allow businesses to complete border formalities in one single portal in a given Member State. Customs and other authorities will then be able to automatically verify that the goods in question comply with EU requirements and that the necessary formalities have been completed.

Image courtesy of the European Commission.

Why has the Commission proposed the Single Window?

Currently, the formalities required at the EU’s external borders often involve many different authorities in charge of different policy areas, such as health and safety, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, cultural heritage and market surveillance and product compliance. As a result, businesses have to submit information to several different authorities, each with their own portal and procedures. This is cumbersome and time-consuming for traders and reduces the capacity of authorities to act in a joined-up way in combatting risks.

This proposal is the first step in creating a digital framework for enhanced cooperation between all border authorities, through one Single Window. The Single Window will enable businesses and traders to provide data in one single portal in an individual Member State, thereby reducing duplication, time and costs. Customs and other authorities will then be able to collectively use this data, allowing for a fully coordinated approach to goods clearance and a clearer overview at EU level of the goods that are entering or leaving the EU.

Image courtesy of the European Commission.

How will the Single Window work in practice?

Member States should set up national Single Window portals, through which businesses can upload the information related to the goods they are bringing in or out of the EU. These national portals will then link up through the EU digital framework that the Commission will put in place, so that all relevant authorities can access the relevant data and collaborate more easily on border checks.

Ultimately, the aim is that national Single Windows will replace the multitude of different portals used by the different authorities responsible for border checks. This will create a much more streamlined, coordinated and holistic approach to goods clearance within the Union.

What is expected from Member States?

The Commission’s proposal is just the first step in creating the Single Window Environment for customs. This is an ambitious project that will entail important investment at both EU and Member State level, with gradual implementation over the next decade or so. Member States will need to invest in transforming their national legislation, processes and IT systems, so that they can fully reap the benefits of the Single Window. Where possible, the Commission is ready to support them in this work, including through funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

The Single Window proposal was announced in the new Customs Union Action Plan published in September this year and it is part of President von der Leyen’s commitment to take the Customs Union to the next level.

Image courtesy of the European Commission.

History of the project

Given the complex nature of this task and the extensive work it entails, a phased approach to the creation of the Single Window was adopted for its implementation.

The first step was the enabling of automated validation of supporting documents (i.e. certificates and licenses) to the customs declaration, using the EU Customs SW IT solution provided by the European Commission DG TAXUD infrastructure. The automated acceptance and verification of certificates by customs already offer benefits to both economic operators and public administrations.

The first pilot project of the EU Customs SW initiative, the EU Single Window – Common Veterinary Entry Document (EU SW-CVED), was initiated in 2012 and entered into production in December 2014.

The aim of the EU SW-CVED project is to provide for automated validity checks of the Common Veterinary Entry Document (CVED) and Common Entry Document (CED) certificates submitted with customs declarations.

This project consists in interconnecting the Member States Customs Systems and the DG SANTE certificates database TRACES, which holds the CVED and CED certificates, through the DG TAXUD IT solution.

The system is operational with nine Member States in production in 2020 in 9 Member States (Czechia, Ireland, Slovenia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Poland, Cyprus, Estonia and Portugal).

The successor of the project (called EU Customs SW – CERTEX) version 1 is being rolled out by the last quarter of 2020. EU CSW-CERTEX streamlines the interface towards Member States and expands on formalities included.

EU Customs Single Window – Certificates Exchange

The business case for the new project, the “EU Customs Single Window: Certificates exchange (EU CSW-CERTEX)” project was approved by the Member States and the Commission in early 2017 to accommodate new certificates’ integration and enhancement of the functionalities of the EU SW-CVED phase. The “EU Customs Single Window: CERTEX” project is based on the EU SW-CVED pilot project.

The enhancement of the functionalities of the EU SW-CVED consist of adding the quantity management functionality, and the possibility to generate and transmit certificates in a human-readable format (i.e. PDF) for the three certificates currently available in the EU SW-CVED (CVEDA, CVEDP and CED).

Three new certificates have been added to the project: Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) from DG ENV, Certificate of Organic Inspection (COI) from DG AGRI and Common Health Entry Document for Plant Protection (CHED-PP) from DG SANTE, envisaging the same functionalities as for the CVEDA, CVEDP and CED after the above-mentioned enhancement.

All three new certificates are managed by TRACES NT administered by the European Commission’s DG SANTE.

Initially, the project is limited to connecting the EU Customs SW to TRACES/TRACES NT since the six certificates falling in scope (CVEDA, CVEDP, CED, FLEGT, COI and CHED-PP) are managed within TRACES/TRACES NT. However, looking at the perspectives of the EU Customs SW evolution, other certificates hosted on a database different than TRACES NT will be added.

The next project phase will cover the interconnection with the ODS2 Licensing system of DG CLIMA, allowing the exchange of information on the Ozone Depleting Substances Licenses (ODS) and Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (FGAS). This interconnection is planned to be enabled in 2020 for ODS and in 2021 for the FGAS flow.

More work is ongoing in area of CITES, market surveillance, etc.

Customs 2020 working group

In parallel with the activities on certificates exchange, a Customs 2020 Project Group was set up in December 2016 to study a possible framework to develop the EU Single Window environment for customs including its legal aspects.

This Project Group aimed to tackle the global vision of the EU Single Window environment for customs including the coverage for the automated acceptance and verification of certificates supporting the customs declaration, the necessary legal basis, as well as the Action Plan to establish such environment.

Following the outcome of first phase project activities, a new legal initiative was launched in April 2017, receiving political validation on 20/06/2017. The Inception Impact Assessment for this initiative was published in Europa-info-better regulation-initiatives.

The aforementioned Project Group continued to support the legal developments of the initiative as a consultative body.

Stakeholder consultations

The European Commission launched a public consultation to provide stakeholders involved in the cross-border movement of goods and the wider public with the opportunity to express their views on all elements covered by the impact assessment: problem definition and respective drivers/root causes; the issue of subsidiarity and the added value of an EU level intervention; preliminary options for measures/policy packages; likely impacts of each option. Qualitative (opinions, views, perceptions, suggestions) and quantitative information (data, statistics) were sought from stakeholders.

The public consultation ran from 09/10/2018 until 17/01/2019; the questionnaire that was used in this consultation can be found here. The individual responses submitted during the public consultation period can be viewed in their raw form in this table. A brief statistical report presents the responses for each question – the summary report a more detailed analysis of the public consultation. Participants also had the possibility to upload position papers, which can be found here.

More detailed information about all of the stakeholder consultation activities planned for this initiative can be found in this stakeholder consultation strategy here.


Compliments of the European Commission.