Following a backdown by the German government last year, a hugely controversial art protection law was successfully passed by the Bundestag on the 23rd June.
Designed to prevent art and artefacts of significant cultural value from leaving Germany, the legislation stipulates that prior approval must be secured before artworks older than 50 years and valued at more than £120,000 (€150,000) can be sold outside the European Union. An export permit is required for the sale of artworks older than 75 years and valued at over £242,000 (€300,000) within the EU. Until now, export permits have only been required for sales outside the EU. According to German culture minister, Monika Grütters, who has consistently campaigned for the new law it will bring the country’s cultural heritage protection standards more closely in line with that of UNESCO and Europe.
Critics of the bill, including artists, art dealers, auction houses, private collectors and museums fiercely opposed what they perceived as an unwelcome interference with ownership rights. Living German artists such as Georg Baselitz had feared the law would act as an effective embargo on lucrative international sales of their works. Responding to a draft of the bill in August 2015, Baselitz announced plans to remove his works from museums in order to sell them before the law was enacted. The final draft of the legislation provides that living artists can only be included on the list of protected works with their approval but the impact on collectors of works by non-living artists is yet to be determined. There are concerns that the law may result in a devaluing of their collections.
Grütters is confident that with the passing of the law, “the right balance between various legitimate interests has finally been found.” Yet, uncertainty remains over the precise definition of significant cultural value and some German state politicians anticipate that the permit requirement will create “an unforeseeable financial and logistical burden”.