At the EU Competitiveness Council, ministers gave a clear message to the European Commission that more fine-tuning is needed on proposals to modernise the EU's customs system. The most contentious points proved to be those elements in the Commission's proposals dealing with liberalising customs representation and touching upon the repartition of customs revenues and burdens.

The debate in the Council on 4 December follows approval by the European Parliament's Internal Market Committee, on 22 November, of three co-decision reports on EU customs, now in first reading. All three reports will be the subject of a joint debate in Strasbourg on 11 December.

Also controversial is investment in a paperless customs environment ( e-customs') as indicated in a report by Christopher Heaton-Harris (EPP, UK). The Commission puts required investment for e-customs at around 161 million from 2007 to 2013. Two other reports on a modernised Community Customs Code and the Customs 2013 programme by Janelly Fourtou (ALDE, France), also up for discussion in Strasbourg, have major implications for member states.

Especially southern Europe, including France, expressed reservations. The single window,' the first concept discussed, was, though, viewed positively as traders and transporters would be able to lodge standardised customs documents at single entry points. A one-stop-shop' would supplement the single window' with physical checks of goods at the same time and place.

Secondly, centralised clearance, also receiving general support, would allow importers and exporters to lodge customs declarations in electronic form at their local' customs office. This is irrespective of where the goods are entering into or leaving the EU. Thirdly, greater competition for customs representation would be created under Commission proposals to abolishing of existing national restrictions on customs agents.

Greece was perhaps the most ardent in calling for further reflection. Although agreeing, in "substance," on the single window,' the Greeks want a proper cost-benefit analysis. "We understand the benefits. But we do see problems such as the shift of customs declarations to certain geographical areas. There also needs to be a formula for fair distribution of customs...

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