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Taxation and Customs Union

European Customs Laboratories

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

Have a look at this video to discover more about the European Customs Laboratories


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


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)


Mineral oils


Narcotics and psychotropic drugs / chemical precursors


Textile / footwear/ Leathers and skins


Chemical or industrial products


Ores and base metals


Elaborate matters


Ceramics and glass


Plastic / rubber


Tobacco products


Wood / paper


Other types of samples


(The figures were collected from the Laboratories in 2016)

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