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July 14, 2017

EC Proposal on Plundering, Smuggling and the Importing Illicit Cultural Heritage in the European Union

Image Credit: European Commission Audiovisual Services

If adopted by the EU's 28 member nations and by the European Parliament, the measures would enter into force in 2019.  

Reinforcing the powers of customs authorities the commission’s plan focuses on:
  • A common EU definition for 'cultural goods' at importation which would cover objects such as archaeological finds, ancient scrolls, the remains of historical monuments or artworks that are at least 250 years old at the moment of importation.  This material would be divided into two principal categories:
        --archaeological objects, parts of monuments and ancient manuscripts and               books,

        --goods such as artwork, collections, and antiques.
  • A licensing system for the import of these object classes which would require importers to have obtained import licences from the competent authorities in the EU before importing objects into the EU.
  • Applying a more rigorous certification system by submitting a signed statement or affidavit as proof that the goods have been exported legally from the third country.
  • Customs authorities having the power to seize and retain goods when it cannot be demonstrated that the cultural goods in question have been legally exported.
  • Increasing public awareness, specifically targeting those who both trade in and purchase cultural goods as their personal or economically driven desire to own ancient art, frequently fails to put emphasis on an object’s origins or legality during the purchasing decision making process. 
All this sounds good in concept, but implementing future regulations and then enforcing them is another thing.  

New Regulations, but the ability to inforce them? 

According to 2016 annual trade data on art and antiques, sales at auction and through private sales and by art and antique dealers for classical antiquities in Europe were estimated at $66.7 million, larger than the U.S. market ($51.56 million).

In contrast Belgium's federal police unit dedicated to fighting illegal trafficking of cultural property, once part of the central directorate against serious and organised crime, made up of five persons in 2006, was reduced to two investigators and then quietly eliminated in 2016. 

Per a recent email in London, a city where one of the Europe's busiest antiquities art markets resides, the city's Art & Antiques Unit of SCO7, with the Metropolitan Police has been operationally suspended since June 19, 2017 in light of the recent incidents in London.  The unit's automated email reply states the unit has been redeployed for three months and they are therefore unable to accept any new enquiries at this time, adding "we hope to be back in the Autumn."

ARCA hopes so too.