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Europe Day 2024: The Future of Customs in the EU by 2040

The future customs union of the EU may look very different than what it does today, and all businesses should take note, argues Arne Mielken of Customs Manager Ltd.

Today is 9th May. It's Europe Day! A good moment to look into the future. The future of Customs

How may the world look like by 2040?

What actions can policymakers take now to ensure the EU Customs Union continues to benefit citizens, the environment and the economy?

Arne Mielken, Managing Director of Customs Manager Ltd. was fortunate enough to be a member of the reflection group of customs specialists and experts. We summarize the foresight process and the results reached.

What was this foresight process? What did we do?

The foresight process has assisted DG TAXUD’s strategic reflection on the future of the Customs Union. To explore how best to build a positive future for customs, the JRC assembled key experts and stakeholders from across academia, business, customs authorities, European Commission services, international organizations, civil society, and non-EU countries. Together we developed a vision for EU Customs in 2040. The vision will help those leading the EU Customs Union to steer their policies and operations in a clear and desired direction.

What's the main conclusion? One Customs

The project finds that having a joint governing structure to manage the EU Customs Union would be beneficial in all future scenarios for 2040. It also finds that digital skills and harmonised IT systems will be key to the success of customs in the coming years.. We identified the connection with other policies, such as environment, social, trade, consumer protection, justice and home affairs, as one of the most important drivers of change.

How did we get to the vision of future Customs in 2040?

The vision we created was preceded by the development of future scenarios on how EU Customs could be like in a dynamic or stalling European economy; and in a peaceful or conflict-ridden world. The scenarios provided useful narratives that inspired the common vision. It identified common challenges and opportunities across potential future scenarios, the group working on the customs foresight project were able to identify common actions that can be taken today to safeguard an EU Customs Union that will be resilient and effective in the future.

This fed into the report’s wider foresight analysis, which included, among several other activities, analysing key trends, possible future challenges, roadmaps and how different actors might interact to achieve the common vision.

4 Future Scenarios

We identified 4 possible futures before engaging in a strategic reflection on the preferred future of customs in the EU. These scenarios are:

  1. ‘Customs for society’: a relatively peaceful world with dynamic EU economic development;

  2. ‘Protected Union’: a conflictual world with dynamic economic development;

  3. ‘Customs under strain’: a conflictual world with slow EU economic development;

  4. ‘No-stop-shop’: a relatively peaceful world with slow EU economic development.

For each of the scenarios, participants consider what these possible futures could mean for customs policy and governance, for data management and IT, for international exchanges, for customs capacity, and for business and operational support.

Recommended actions for the future of the EU Customs Union

Through the foresight process, we came up with several recommendations on how to achieve the vision of an EU Customs Union that, by 2040, acts as one and fully protects society, the environment and the EU economy. These include:

  • Harmonising national IT systems, or moving to one EU IT system in the mid to long-term, in order to enable customs operations to function efficiently;

  • Making the most effective use of customs data and leveraging technological advancements;

  • Ensuring the right digital skills for the future of customs across all EU Member States ;

  • Driving reforms at the international level through a strong, united European position.

  • Creating a joint governance structure to manage the Customs Union.

What are the main outputs?

The main outputs of this project are: - a co-created vision for EU Customs in 2040 - four scenarios for the future of customs in the EU (presented in text and video-form) - an EU Customs version of the Scenario Exploration System

Next Steps

The findings of the foresight process fed into the Commission’s Customs Action Plan, which puts forward a vision and a plan of ambitious actions to take the Customs Union to the next level. These actions, to be achieved in the period up to 2025, are intended as a first step towards the 2040 vision.

Where can I read the final report?

The final report has two parts: - Part I focuses on summarised outcomes of all the foresight methods used, and insights and recommendations. - Part II presents detailed outputs and the methodology used, including step-by-step instructions for how to carry out the foresight methods.

More information

You can read the press release here, and all information on the project can be found on the dedicated website.

Download the Report

The Future of the EU in 2040 Report
Download PDF • 4.62MB


Press release

Video leading to several other videos

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