The vote, which took place on 11 December and confirmed a common position reached by member states over the summer, means that by 2011, companies will be able to electronically lodge all the information required by customs authorities for cross-border movements of goods within the EU.
While all member states already have electronic customs systems, the novelty will be in the inter-connection of all of these systems and the creation of a common electronic portal containing all the information relating to customs transactions in each member state.
The MEP in charge of steering the legislation through Parliament, Chris Heaton-Harris (UK, EPP-ED) explained: "Today, despite heavy investment in automated customs, member states use different systems, sets of rules and databases. Their huge disadvantage is the lack of interoperability. This new proposal requires member states to make a substantial allocation of resources to overcome this problem and provide a truly streamlined customs system."
The next move, expected within five years, will be the creation of a single contact point for all economic operators, irrespective of their country of origin or the destination of their goods. This will allow traders to deal with just one regulatory body instead of several border control authorities, as they do at present.
The Commission welcomed the vote, saying that the establishment of a pan-European system will increase the competitiveness of companies doing business in Europe thanks to reduced compliance and administrative costs and faster clearance times.
It added that the initiative would "contribute to the fight against international crime and terrorism by speeding up the exchange of information with regard to the international supply chain".