Monday - 01 September 2014

Call to wrest art market laws back from EU

21 August 2013Written by Ivan Macquisten

The British Art Market Federation (BAMF) has called on the government to reclaim major powers regulating the UK’s art market from the European Union and return them to Parliament in London.

BAMF submitted the formal appeal as part of the government's official review of the balance of powers between Brussels and Westminster.

The chairman of BAMF, Anthony Browne, argued that when considering EU policy in the round, it does not benefit the British art market. At the heart of BAMF's argument is that a combination of circumstances means that the EU will never be disposed to act in the interests of the UK in this sphere.

The first is that because Britain's art market is so much larger than that found in any other member state, other countries within the EU have little interest in the impact of internal legislation on the art market.

The second is that Single Market considerations tend to focus on creating a level playing field within the EU while ignoring the wider competitive pressures of the international market.

"The British art market is unique within the European Union, not only because of its size - it accounts for 66% of the EU's art market by value (its nearest rival, France, has only 16%) - but because it is the EU's only genuinely global art market," states the submission.

International Competition

"Because of its global outreach, the British art market must ensure that it remains competitive, both within and outside the EU, particularly as London's major international rivals, New York, Hong Kong and Geneva are beyond the scope of EU legislation."

This objective is being frustrated, argues the submission: "Single Market legislation has mainly been detrimental to the UK's ability to compete internationally, because its primary aim has been to establish harmonisation within the EU, rather than to protect the EU's competitive position in the wider world."

The most obvious case in which British interests have been dismissed via Qualified Majority Voting was over the introduction of the Artists' Resale Right. The prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, voted against the measure, but QMV meant that there was no British right of veto, so the UK was forced to introduce it.

However, it is the wider scope of interest that BAMF is concerned with here, encompassing taxation and export controls as well.

"In general, BAMF's main concern about the balance of EU competence centres on the uniqueness of the British market and the difficulty that British governments have had in attempting to defend its interests in the context of a very competitive global art market. We suggest that greater subsidiarity, or mutual recognition of the differing priorities of Member States, should prevail so that decisions, which can impact disproportionately on Britain's art market, are made in Westminster rather than in Brussels."

The government is conducting six such reviews covering a wide range of British interests. What they have not yet declared, however, is how they will act on the findings.

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