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22. 6.

98 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 196/47

(98/C 196/64) WRITTEN QUESTION E-3979/97

by Eva Kjer Hansen (ELDR) to the Commission

(14 January 1998)

Subject: Arrangements for the removal and/or suspension of customs debts

Parliament’s Temporary Committee on Inquiry into the Community Transit System recommended that the
Commission should include in its reform package a proposal for writing off outstanding customs debts (see
Recommendation 27, PE 220.895/fin.).

Will the Commission explain how it has followed up the recommendation to include the proposal for writing off
outstanding debts and the timetable for introducing such arrangements?

Will it state whether customs administrations have been jointly invited to agree to a suspension of outstanding
repayment claims until the above arrangements enter into force and produce results?

Answer given by Mr Monti on behalf of the Commission

(24 February 1998)

Recommendation No 27 of Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on transit, referred to by the Honourable Member,


is that the Commission submit a proposal to write off outstanding debts where these can be shown to be the result
of maladministration. It also recommends that until these arrangements have been agreed, the customs
authorities should be invited to suspend outstanding claims of repayment dating from before the introduction of
the 100% guarantee for sensitive goods.

In its communication to Parliament and the Council entitled Action plan for transit in Europe − a new customs
policy (1) the Commission gives its reasons for considering that this recommendation cannot be implemented.
They may be summarised in three main points. Firstly, outstanding debts concern both Community resources
(customs duties) and national resources (VAT and excise duties); it is for the Member States to decide how to
respond to requests that debts involving the latter be written off.

Secondly, customs legislation as it stands does not allow blanket remission of debt. Such remission would in any
event be unfair, given the wide variety of individual cases and circumstances. However, it provides for the
possible remission or non-recovery of customs debt in special situations. These situations are of necessity strictly
individual and must be examined on a case-by-case basis at the appropriate level (national or Community),
taking into account the fact that the principal’s liability centres on the proper conduct of community transit
operations, even if he or she is the victim of fraud perpetrated by organised criminal groups, although the extent
to which the administration’s conduct was a determining factor in an irregular transit operation may be taken into
account.

Lastly, customs legislation does not provide for any general suspension of payments. The reasons for this are
similar to those outlined above. The moratorium sought by operators does not offer a solution, as the problem
would remain once the moratorium had expired. However, customs legislation allows the customs authorities to
delay payment and accept settlement in instalments. It is therefore up to operators experiencing particular
difficulties to make the appropriate representations to the customs authorities. The Commission also plans to
propose that suspension of payment be extended to cases where there is more than one debtor so as to secure
better linkage between the principle of the principal’s liability and effective fraud investigation.

(1) OJ C 176, 10.6.1997.