The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

National Council debates a mammoth bill with the Customs Act

The National Council will discuss the completely revised Customs Act on Wednesday. The bill is intended to simplify procedures and tariffs and implement digitization in the customs system. It is also the framework law for the organization of customs following the merger of customs and border guards.

Among other things, the future powers of the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (BAZG), the relationship to cantonal police sovereignty and data protection are likely to be controversial.

A lengthy debate is to be expected: the document listing the Commission's proposals and minority motions is no less than 490 pages long. There is no guarantee that the bill will ultimately find a majority in the Council.

In the 2023 summer session, the Grand Chamber only decided to accept the bill by a relatively narrow margin - 100 votes to 78 with nine abstentions. It did so against the wishes of a narrow majority of the National Council's Committee for Economic Affairs and Taxation (WAK-N), which would have wanted it to be referred back to the Federal Council. The SVP, SP and FDP prevailed in the Council.

Difficult history

There had been fundamental criticism in the run-up to the decision to enter into the procedure: as early as 2022, the Control Committee of the Council of States (CC-S) criticized the fact that Parliament had been presented with a fait accompli with the reorganization of customs.

In 2019, the Federal Council decided that customs officers and border guards should have the same job in future. The aim is for all employees to be trained to inspect goods, people and means of transport. The existing civilian customs specialists are also to wear uniforms and be armed.

This reform was met with criticism from both BAZG staff and the cantons. As a result, Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter reacted: in January 2023, she set up a working group led by former Aargau cantonal councillor Urs Hofmann (SP) to address the cantons' objections to the associated framework law.

In May 2023, the employment relationship with the then head of the BAZG, Christian Bock, was finally terminated - by mutual agreement, according to the Confederation. The Federal Council did not provide further details on the reasons for Bock's departure, but spoke of an amicable separation.

Numerous minority motions

Compared to the Federal Council's draft, the preliminary consultation committee is proposing a whole series of amendments. Among other things, the principle of subsidiarity should be more precisely defined in the law. In addition, the service providers, such as online platforms, are to be made responsible for the declaration of goods when orders are placed on online platforms abroad.

The National Council will also have to decide on numerous proposals from minorities in the preliminary committee. A large number of these come from the ranks of the SVP and the Council's left wing. These include the possibility of systematic identity checks at the border, automated vehicle searches and the question of in which cases FOCA employees should be allowed to handcuff people.


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