The European Commission has put forward plans to harmonise customs infringements and align the 28 national sets of related sanctions in the Member States.
The proposed directive sets out acts that must be considered infringements of the Union's customs rules, as well as a framework for imposing sanctions when these occur.
The customs union is the foundation of the EU.
Since the beginning of the Internal Market, EU customs legislation has been fully harmonised in a single legal act. However, the consequences of violating the common rules vary across the different countries.
They depend on the different legal orders and administrative or judicial traditions of the Member States. In the absence of a common approach, the Commission noted, there is a patchwork of responses to rule-breakers.
This leads to vulnerabilities in revenue collection and weaknesses in enforcing policies such as consumer protection and agriculture in relation to import and export of goods.
For example, sanctions for certain infringements range from small fines in some Member States, to imprisonment in others. The financial threshold for deciding whether an infringement is criminal or not ranges from €266 to €50,000 according the country in which it occurs.
National time limits for sanctioning customs offences also vary widely, from one to 30 years, while some Member States have no time limit at all.
Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner responsible for Customs Union, said: "There is no point in a solid, single set of rules if we do not also have a common approach to responding when they are broken. We must ensure that EU customs law is respected to the same high standards across the Single Market."