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EFS Conference
'50 Years of the EU Customs Union and EU VAT System: Developments, Challenges and Alternatives’

Thursday, 14 February 2019 | 13.30 – 18.30 | Erasmus University Rotterdam

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EFS, Erasmus University Rotterdam is celebrating 50 years of the EU Customs Union and EU VAT System by presenting an outlook on various developments, challenges and alternatives.

The European Customs Union, which marked its 50th anniversary on 1 July 2018, is a fundamental pillar of the European Union as a single trading area, and both supports and protects the Single Market. While the creation of the Customs Union can be seen as one of the EU’s greatest achievements to date, the anniversary celebrations have been somewhat overshadowed by the challenges currently being faced in the form of Brexit, trade wars and sanctions. With globalisation under attack, this seminar takes the 50th anniversary as an opportunity to rethink the concept of the Customs Union.

The first step towards a harmonised EU VAT system was taken on 1 January 1969, when the member states of what is now the European Union agreed to transpose the principles laid down in the first EU VAT Directive into their national VAT legislation. Fifty years later, the EU VAT system is facing its most extensive reform to date, with the Commission’s Action Plan on VAT aiming to introduce a definitive VAT regime based on the destination principle. This new regime, it is hoped, will be effective in preventing intracommunity VAT fraud. But while the European Commission’s roadmap seems clear, the EU member states are hesitant about embracing the Commission’s plans. As a result, other methods for combating VAT fraud within the existing system are being explored.

At this conference, academic and professional experts will share their views on possible alternatives to the reforms, as well as exchanging thoughts on various recent developments and challenges facing the Customs Union. This will be followed by a panel discussion on the possible consequences in practice.

We are pleased to invite tax professionals from the Netherlands and abroad with a background in consultancy and practice and working for government authorities, tax and customs administrations, international organisations, industry or the academic world to attend this conference, which will also officially mark the completion of the 2018 EFS post-master programmes in EU Customs Law and Indirect Taxation. The conference is free of charge and participants are eligible for 3 Permanent Education points.

We look forward to welcoming you on Thursday, 14 February 2019!


Seminar Chair

Prof. Madeleine Merkx – Erasmus School of Law, EFS, BDO


Dr Geraldo Vidigal – University of Amsterdam
Prof. Walter de Wit – Erasmus School of Law, EFS, EY
Prof. Edoardo Traversa – UCLouvain, VAT Expert Group, Liedekerke
Brigitte Bijl - Ministry of Finance
Sascha Jafari - Summitto


Bart Caluwé - Indirect Tax Director at Expedia
Marc Gorter - Global & EMEA Customs Manager at Unilever
Prof. Charlène Herbain – UCLouvain, PwC
Dr Cristina Trenta - Örebro University, VAT Expert Group


13:30 – 14:00 Welcome
14:00 – 14:05 Introduction - Madeleine Merkx
14:05 – 14:30 Rules-Based Trade Under Fire: the EU Customs Union in Uncertain Times - Geraldo Vidigal
14:30 – 15:00 The EU Customs Union after Brexit - Walter de Wit
15:00 – 15:30 Key Reforms to the EU VAT System: State of Play - Edoardo Traversa
15:30 – 16:00 Break
16:00 – 16:30 Alternative approaches to combatting VAT fraud:
Transaction Network Analyses and Blockchain
- Brigitte Bijl and Sascha Jafari
16:30 – 17:30 Panel Discussion
17:30 – 18:30 Drinks and Networking


Erasmus University Rotterdam
Campus Woudestein
Van der Goot Building (M)
Room Forum, M3-15 (3rd floor)
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3052 PA Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Seminar Chair

Madeleine Merkx

Madeleine Merkx is Professor of Indirect Taxes at the Erasmus School of Law.
She is also a partner at BDO, working for the Tax Research Center in Tilburg.


Geraldo Vidigal

Geraldo Vidigal is an Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), where he lectures on International Trade Law and Public International Law, and coordinates the LL.M. in International Trade and Investment Law.
He previously worked as a Dispute Settlement Lawyer at the World Trade Organization (Legal Affairs Division) and as a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute's Department of International Law and Dispute Resolution in Luxembourg.
He is the Managing Editor of Legal Issues of Economic Integration (Kluwer) and, since early 2018, integrates the WTO's indicative roster of dispute settlement panellists.

Walter de Wit

Walter de Wit is Professor of European and International Customs Law at the Erasmus School of Law and programme director of the EFS Post-Master in EU Customs Law. As well as contributing to the Rotterdam School of Management‘s Customs and Supply Chain Compliance’ programme, he is actively involved in research and teaching relating to the Erasmus University’s ‘Maritime and Transport Tax Law’ research project.
Walter is also a partner at EY, where his work includes advising businesses, national governments and international organisations on indirect taxation, international trade and customs duties.
As Advocate-General at the Tax Division of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands from 2004-2007, he wrote opinions on subjects ranging from customs to turnover tax and, in the field of primary European tax law, has also written on tax discrimination, the free movement of goods and services, and state aid.
His PhD, which he completed at the University of Amsterdam in 1997, examined the opportunities available under EU law to national governments to use tax instruments in their environmental policies.

Edoardo Traversa

Edoardo Traversa is Professor of Tax Law and Policy at the Faculty of Law and Criminology, and Head of the Institute of European Studies, at UCLouvain (Belgium). His research focuses on European tax integration and international business taxation, including VAT, as well as on fiscal and financial federalism and the interaction between taxation and public policies.
As a member of the European Commission’s VAT Expert Group he regularly advises EU and Belgian public authorities on these issues.
He is also a lawyer at the Brussels Bar (Liedekerke), with experience in VAT litigation in European and domestic courts.

Brigitte Bijl

Brigitte Bijl worked for the Dutch tax authorities as a controller and, after studying Tax Law at Leiden University, as a VAT inspector for 26 years.
Her involvement in the project team handling the legislation on the VAT Compensation Fund got her interested in legislative work at the Ministry of Finance, where she has now been working in the Directorate-General for Tax for the past ten years.
She is involved in drafting national legislation and regulations, as well as in negotiations on various VAT-related topics in official working groups in Brussels.
She enjoys sharing her knowledge by lecturing on the legislative process as part of the EFS Post-Master in Indirect Taxation.

Sascha Jafari

Sascha Jafari is a co-founder of Summitto, a start-up aiming to use blockchain technology as a means to end VAT fraud.
Since graduating in law in 2009 he has designed and implemented digital solutions for various multinationals, including Accenture, Deloitte and Deutsche Bank.
He has been monitoring bitcoin developments since 2013 and using his unique combination of knowledge of IT and VAT to research the impact of cryptography in the field of VAT.


Bart Caluwé

Bart Caluwé was the EMEA VAT Lead Manager at HP International Sàrl in Switzerland till January 2019 and has just started as Indirect Tax Director at Expedia. He specializes in VAT cashflow optimization and risk management applying EU VAT and related customs law in cross-border transactions. In his new role at Expedia Bart will focus more on digital services.
He chairs the Lake Geneva Indirect Tax Manager Roundtable, is an organiser of the annual Switzerland-wide VAT Managers Roundtable and regularly publishes articles in leading national and international academic and professional journals.

Marc Gorter

Marc Gorter is the Global & EMEA Customs Manager at Unilever, a well-known British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company which makes and sells consumer goods under around 400 brand names in over 190 countries.
Marc leads the global customs team of Unilever and is responsible for and actively monitors the performance of Unilever’s customs duty management position in all countries Unilever is active.
He was previously a customs advisor at Deloitte and Simmons & Simmons, where he specialised in advising companies on a wide variety of customs matters, including valuations, origin management, classifications and suspension regimes.

Charlène Herbain

Charlène Herbain is a lawyer at the Brussels Bar.
She completed her PhD at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the University of Luxembourg. She is a Professor in Tax Law at UCLouvain (Belgium), specialising in VAT and lecturing on that university’s Master of Laws programme and on the LL.M in Taxation at the University of Luxembourg. She is a Visiting Professor at the University of Nancy II in France (Magistère juriste d'affaires européen) and a Guest Professor at the Royal Military Academy of Belgium.
She is a Senior Managing Associate in the tax policy and litigation practice of PwC Legal (Belgium), where she deals with topics including the exchange of information, taxpayer protection by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, fraud investigations, fixed establishments and financial services.
She has spoken at events organised by the International Fiscal Association, the International Association of Independent Accounting Firms, PwC, the European Law Students' Association and various universities and industry and other associations.

Cristina Trenta

Cristina Trenta is an Associate Professor in Tax Law at Örebro University, Sweden. She holds a PhD in European Tax Law from the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, Italy (her thesis was awarded the 2008 prize by the European Commission and European Tax Law Professors Association) and a second PhD in Commercial Law from Jönköping International Business School, Sweden.
Cristina teaches and researches in the fields of tax law, VAT and digital technologies, with a specific focus on their interplay in the development and upholding of human rights.
She recently published Rethinking EU VAT for P2P distribution (Kluwer Law International) and is an appointed member of the EU Commission’s VAT Expert Group.

About EFS, Erasmus University Rotterdam

EFS is a partnership between the tax departments of the Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Schools of Law and Economics.

EFS has been a leading education and research institute in the fields of indirect taxes (VAT and customs duties) and direct taxes (personal, corporate and source taxation) in a European and wider international context for over 25 years. EFS aims to pursue and promote academic education and research exploring the implications of international, and particularly EU, law for national tax systems. As well as regularly hosting academic symposia, conferences and lectures, EFS offers a wide range of post-master programmes and top-level seminars.

EFS programmes are taught by renowned professors and guest speakers, whose experience and reputation in their specialised fields guarantee high educational standards. The programmes are designed for tax specialists with several or more years of professional experience, with the diversity in the backgrounds of participants and speakers making EFS a unique network platform for exchanging knowledge.

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