Legal action against UK on unpaid European Commission garlic bill


The European Commission is taking Britain to court in a battle over an unpaid bill of millions of pounds in duty on imports of garlic.

The European Commission announced legal action today after an ultimatum to pay £15m to Brussels or face action in the European Court of Justice expired .

The wrangle is over the fact that import tariffs on frozen garlic from outside the EU are lower than the rates for fresh garlic.

And, according to the Commission, UK authorities carelessly levied the lower rate applicable to frozen garlic on imports of the fresh product from China, in breach of EU customs rules.

All customs duties charged on imports of goods coming from a non-EU country are collected by member states on behalf of the EU and paid to the common EU budget as part of each member state's annual contributions.

One quarter of the total raised from such duties is held back by the national authority to cover collection costs.

This form of contribution to EU coffers makes up about 12% of the total annual sum submitted by the 27 national exchequers.

A Commission statement explained: "Between 2005 and 2006, the UK customs authorities allowed imports of fresh garlic from the People's Republic of China, erroneously stating that it was frozen garlic, subject to significantly lower import duties than fresh garlic.

"The Commission considers that, in failing to collect the correct amount, the UK authorities did not act with all due care.

"The UK authorities, however, have failed to compensate for the missing amount, by claiming that the customs took all necessary actions justified by the case."

The statement said the Commission was taking legal action "to protect the common EU interest", adding: "Fair treatment of all member states must be ensured - if one member state fails to deliver on its obligation to collect the common resources of the EU budget, the other member states are forced to pay more as a result."

After exchanges of letters between Brussels and London in 2007-2010 on the issue, formal legal proceedings were launched, culminating in a final warning late last year and now the triggering of formal court proceedings.