The Union Customs Code (UCC) harmonizes the customs laws of the European Union. The UCC stipulates that Member States must impose penalties for failing to comply with customs legislation, and that these penalties must be efficient, proportionate, and dissuasive. Member States must notify the Commission of the penalties that they apply to various acts of non-compliance and of any subsequent amendments to those penalties (if applicable).

The UCC therefore gives the Member States the freedom to establish customs penalties at their own discretion. This means that the system of penalties varies across the EU Member States and are continuously subject to change.

The Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union of the European Commission has now created a report which provides an overview of the penalties that are imposed by the various Member States. It becomes clear from this overview which system for penalties are operated by the EU Member States for a certain infringement of customs regulations.

The broad conclusion from the report is that although there are convergences between the various national penalty systems, all systems strive to provide for penalties that are dissuasive, efficient and proportionate (which is required by the UCC). The Court of Justice of the European Union is the gatekeeper in ensuring that the penalties as imposed by the various Member States are in line with the provisions in the UCC. Having said that, there are no absolute similarities between the various Member States, in the sense that none of them apply the  same penalty to the same infringement.

A final interesting takeaway from the report is the nature of the penalties. Most EU Member States (52%) apply a system that provides for both administrative and criminal penalties. There are, however, Member States whose system only provides for criminal sanctions (30%) or only administrative sanctions (7%). The remaining 11% operate a system that provides for mostly administrative penalties. The importance of the difference between the administrative and criminal sanctions mainly lies in the procedures applicable, enforcement of the infringements and the rights of the person committing the infringement whilst being confronted with the sanction.

The full comparison report can be found here.


Frits Pasch is a Junior Associate within Amsterdam Indirect Tax team. He joined the firm in January 2021.