E-commerce and cross-border delivery services within the EU are about to become more competitive, as new regulations introduced by the European Commission will permit a consumer in France to purchase a Gucci handbag from the company’s Romanian website with greater ease. While consumers are likely to rejoice at renewed efforts to harmonise prices across the single market, organised crime groups reliant on the postal system to traffic illicit goods are also likely to benefit.
Alexandria Reid, Research Analyst, National Security and Resilience
Yet, as on the use of delivery services in the illicit tobacco trade has found, the risk of carrying illicit tobacco products varies considerably across the delivery service market. For example, whereas the largest Europe-wide carriers usually offer fully integrated supply chains that are less vulnerable to those seeking to smuggle illicit tobacco products, many medium and small-sized operators run more fragmented and consequently vulnerable operations. This marketplace is further fragmented by the smaller operators, many running ‘one man, one van’-style cross-border deliveries throughout Europe under little scrutiny.
Given these well-known security risks, the European Commission ought to have conducted a risk assessment regarding the potential effect of these incoming regulations, and in the absence of such an assessment, it is unlikely that the additional resources required to deal with new demands have been incorporated into future customs planning. Indeed, at present, several customs agencies across Europe remain critically under-resourced. The German customs authority, for example, has 40,000 staff, with 1,600 new positions to be filled by 2022, but Customs and Financial Trade Union leader has described the force as only ‘conditionally operational’ (not operating at full capacity or with the resourcing required to meet strategic objectives) under current staffing levels. This also comes at a time when resourcing for the UK’s own has been cut considerably, and the future of UK customs arrangements continues to hang in the balance in Brexit negotiations. For other countries, the fact that these regulations entered into force on 3 December may compound issues created by increasing traffic in combination with the usual already burdensome Christmas rush.