Implementation of new customs IT systems in the EU has suffered from a series of delays, according to a report from the European Court of Auditors. Despite the progress made, some of the key systems will not be available for the 2020 deadline. The next programme will need to take on board the lessons learnt, say the auditors.
Modernising the Customs Union has been on the EU agenda since 2003 and implementation of key IT systems is an important factor. 15 years later, say the auditors, some of those systems are still not in place.
The European Commission set up the Customs 2020 programme to support modernisation of the Customs Union. The total budget amounts to €523 million over seven years, most of which is devoted to IT capacity building. The EU pays for the acquisition, development, installation, maintenance and day-to-day operation of systems at EU level. Member States develop the systems at national level and bear the associated costs.
The auditors assessed whether the programme is likely to deliver the IT systems necessary for improving customs operations in the EU, and whether it ensures that these systems are implemented in a timely manner. They also reviewed its design, monitoring and reporting arrangements.
They found that a number of new IT systems will not be fully implemented by the 2020 deadline. The systems had suffered a series of delays and deadlines had been gradually postponed. There is a further risk that the rescheduled deadlines will not be met either, warn the auditors, but instead extended even beyond 2025.
The main factors behind the delays were: changing project scope, which increased complexity; insufficient resources allocated by the EU and Member States; and a lengthy decision-making process due to the multi-layered governance structure.
“The digitalisation and modernisation of customs processes is key to the EU”, said Eva Lindström, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “It should help the EU operate as a major trading block, enhance economic activity and growth, and increase the safety and security of the EU citizens. But this will not happen if IT deadlines are constantly being missed and extended.”