Role of Customs Laboratories
The EU Customs laboratories provide the scientific expertise needed to enforce European regulations on Customs.
Their main tasks include:
- Chemical analyses to determine the tariff classification and duties of goods
- Control of dangerous substances (e.g. pesticides, pollutants, narcotics, illegal medicines, etc.)
- Determining the authenticity of products and tracking counterfeit
- Providing overall scientific expertise to all customs departments
As such, European Customs Laboratories play an essential role in
- the fight against illegal trafficking (e.g. drugs, or contraband)
- combating fraud
- protecting consumers’ and their health
- safeguarding the environment
- helping the fight against terrorism
- ensuring border integrity
The Customs Laboratories European Network
The EU Customs laboratories are coordinated inside the Customs Laboratories European Network (CLEN) - formerly the GCL, Group of European Customs Laboratories.
The CLEN counts 89 laboratories and mobile laboratories at present. Its activities are carried out on an ad hoc and voluntary basis by the customs laboratories themselves and third country customs laboratories can participate under certain conditions.
Since 1999, the CLEN aims to rationalise, coordinate and optimise the use of human and technical resources among the European Customs Laboratories.
One of its most important missions is to anticipate changes in the Customs environment and to ensure that the Customs Laboratories are sufficiently prepared to meet both current and future challenges.
Through networking and face-to-face contacts between the Customs Laboratories, the CLEN enables the exchange of experience and best practice.
The CLEN carries out coordination through six integrated actions
- Action 1 - Inter Laboratory Inventory of Analytical Determination
- Action 2 - Inter-comparisons and method validations
- Action 3 - Networking on quality
- Action 4 - Communication and Strategy
- Action 5 - Scientific expertise
- Action 6 - European Customs Inventory of Chemical Substances
History of the Customs Laboratories
While some were established relatively recently, most of the laboratories involved in Customs & Excise work in the European Union have a long history.
The oldest were created in the mid-19th century - starting in 1848 with the Austrian Customs Laboratory in Vienna - and the majority of the laboratories came into being before the mid-20th century.
The European Customs Laboratories in figures
In the Member States of the European Union, there are 89 laboratories and mobile laboratories.
The principal missions of the European Customs Laboratories are related to:
|Missions||Part of the total activity|
Excise, energy taxation and other taxes
Customs Tariff Nomenclature
Product quality, fraud detection and consumer health
Common Agricultural Policy
Narcotics and psychotropic drugs
Other (Environment, Forensic, etc.)
The European Customs Laboratories employ some 2100 people, most of whom are public agents.
The Customs Laboratories staff consists of highly qualified individuals including:
- 68% analysts
- 15% scientific advisors
- 6% research scientists
- 11% of other personnel (court experts, trainers, administrative staff, etc.)
The European Customs Laboratory network deals with an average number of over 460 000 samples per year, out of which almost 220 000 are related to Customs and Excise tasks.
These samples are:
|Type of samples analysed by the Customs Laboratories||% of samples analysed|
Food and Beverages (Animal and vegetable products and prepared foodstuffs)
Narcotics and psychotropic drugs / chemical precursors
Textile / footwear/ Leathers and skins
Chemical or industrial products
Ores and base metals
Ceramics and glass
Plastic / rubber
Wood / paper
|Other types of samples|
(The figures were collected from the Laboratories in 2016)