Consultation begins on proposed EU efforts to tackle illicit trade in cultural property

As homegrown efforts to counter the illicit trade in cultural property progress though the UK Parliament, the European Commission has begun consulting on a proposed EU import licence system to tackle the problem.

The Consultation on Rules on the Import of Cultural Goods opened on 28 October 2016 and is part of EU efforts to “protect cultural heritage, fight illicit trafficking, prevent terrorist factions from acquiring income through cultural goods sales and promote legal trade in cultural goods in the EU and worldwide.” 

Measures proposed under the consultation range from a strict licensing system to performing post-clearance audits and gathering information on cultural goods entering the EU. Under the licensing system, dealers and auctioneers would need to obtain a licence before importing antiquities into the EU.

The British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) has criticised the European Commission proposal for offering “no meaningful evidence about the precise problem that needs to be solved”. BADA Secretary General, Mark Dodgson, told the Antiques Trade Gazette that the consultation provided no indication of the frequency of the trade in illegal imports into the EU.

Dodgson is especially concerned by the potentially sweeping nature of the licence system. While it appears to target the trade in antiquities, he said the licence requirements could potentially apply to “all cultural objects including paintings, jewellery and furniture”. These concerns were echoed by Vincent Geerling, dealer and chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art. Geerling called on the European Commission to tighten its definition of “cultural property” to ensure legitimate trade was not affected by the proposals.

Other art market leaders who have joined the chorus of disapproval include Christopher Battiscombe, director general of the Society of London Art Dealers. Battiscombe fears the proposed licensing system would “risk doing serious damage to the whole of the EU art trade”.

Interested parties can contribute their views on the proposals until the period of consultation ends on 23 January 2017.


One thought on “Consultation begins on proposed EU efforts to tackle illicit trade in cultural property

  1. Guy Stair Sainty says:

    So the criminal gangs who smuggle art are now going to line up to obtain import licenses? This is just a wonderful excuse for power-mad bureaucrats to find work for their jobsworth friends at the expense of the EU tax payer. One can be sure that 90% of the trade in art and antiques is entirely legitimate, so this will hurt reputable dealers going about their business while doing nothing to impede looting. Those who engage in the illegal trade in looted works of art are likely to be able to circumvent any such process anyway – and in many case they will be caught when they try and sell any smuggle works. And if the licensing process becomes too difficult for them to get round, the looted works will simply be sold in other venues other than the EU. This will be yet another blow to the art and antique trade in the EU as bureaucrats who know nothing about art struggle to determine what is “cultural property” and rather than lose their cosy job will simply define it as everything that comes across their desk. So works of art that have been in Europe for centuries, exported to the US for sale, will then have to be submitted to this new authority for permission to re-enter the EU. The real point here is that the trade should be stopped at the point of looting – so valuable sites should be protected and careful thought given to the best way to preserve the works of art. Unfortunately, so often those engaged in looting are equally likely to advocate the destruction of these works of art as they allegedly offend some arcane religious principle. Furthermore, the governments ruling the states where looting is rife are often themselves complicit in the destruction of the archaeological record. A cynic might consider, however, that many works of art have only been preserved because they have ended up in great collections in the west rather than being destroyed by wild-eyed fanatics or carpet bombing. Or just used to make building materials as happened to part of the Parthenon that did not end up in the British Museum.


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