The government forced to review the customs control framework

Posted Oct 27, 2022, 7:30 AMUpdated on Oct 27, 2022 at 7:47 am

Serial cancellations of customs controls. This is the scenario that customs officers have feared since the shock decision rendered by the Constitutional Council in September. Their margins of freedom to carry out searches and checks on goods, means of transport and people, when tracking down fraudsters, could be severely restricted. This situation has led the government to submit an amendment to the finance bill for 2023 .

On September 22, the Constitutional Council caused a stir in Bercy, judging that the provisions of Article 60 of the Customs Code, in force since 1948, did not sufficiently regulate controls. These provide that the agents may intervene “without the agreement of the person concerned, or prior authorization from the judicial authority and without it being necessary to note the prior existence of an indication suggesting the commission of an offense “. And this, in all public places, at any time, “with regard to any person on the spot, which includes the possibility of searching his clothes and his luggage”.

Attack on liberty

In the eyes of the wise, this wording posed the risk of an attack on the freedom to come and go and respect for privacy. They therefore considered that the article was unconstitutional and called not for its immediate repeal, but on the 1er September 2023.

With this one-year postponement, “the Council has […] recognized the very destabilizing scope of its decision for the customs missions”, underlines the executive in its amendment of October 7, considering that it is “urgent to reform article 60 of the Customs Code”. Concretely, it proposes the use of an order, “taking into account the technicality of the modifications to be made, directly linked to the operational practice of customs, and the complexity of the work to be carried out”.

“The reform will consist of regulating the power to inspect goods, means of transport and people, so as to circumstantiate its application by customs officers”, specifies the text of the government added to the draft budget for 2023.

A first step has been taken: this amendment which empowers the executive to carry out this reform via an ordinance has, logically, been retained in the finance bill after the triggering of the first 49.3 in the National Assembly.

Drug seizures

But the concern of customs officials has not subsided. In a report of October 19, Unsa Customs deplores the lack of progress. The union, allied with the CGC Customs, has been demanding since September “the preparation of a rewritten text favoring simplicity of action and rejecting any form of overly complex legal arrangement”. For the representatives of the customs officers, the decision of the wise “scuttles” their work.

Senator LR Catherine Dumas questioned the Minister of the Economy in early October. “Customs handles more than 80% of drug seizures and 100% of tobacco seizures […] ; the excavations permitted by article 60 of the Customs Code have made it possible to fight against terrorism in recent years”, she pleaded. In its report published on Wednesday, the Senate fact-finding mission on the fight against tax evasion also focused on this subject. “The legislator must intervene before the repeal of the provisions”, she underlined.

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