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His demands have come in response to Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann’s address to an art market seminar entitled The French Art Market and The Challenge of Globalisation held at the Assemblée Nationale on November 2. In it she echoed the views of the EU Commission that import VAT “does not appear to harm art market competitivity” or droit de suite lead to a “delocalisation” of the art market. (The French government has nonetheless commissioned an independent audit of the effects of droit de suite.)

Lellouche dismissed the Commission’s views as “unfounded” and insisted on the damaging effects of droit de suite, quoting Tony Blair’s letter of April 14 to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Lellouche described the French art market as “a major economic issue” accounting for 60,000 jobs and an annual turnover of Fr30bn, yet confronted with “anxiety and despair” that only a set of “radical measures” could alleviate. Among his proposals are:

• the suppression of import VAT, a “crazy idea” destined to protect the domestic market which was “okay if it’s bikes from Taiwan, but obviously penalises the return of works of art”;
• reducing the level of droit de suite to “no higher than the cost of shipping a work for sale in New York”. Droit de suite should apply for 20 years, rather than 70, after an artist’s death, with proceeds allocated to funds to encourage contemporary art, rather than to the artist’s descendants;
• the French government should “make a clear stand excluding once and for all the notion of works of art becoming subject to wealth tax” (impot sur la Fortune);
• buyer’s premiums should be set by auctioneers;
• reproduction rights (currently levied in France on galleries and dealers but not auctioneers) should only apply to works not intended for sale;
• the current system of pre-emption, with representatives of government bodies often announcing their intention to pre-empt before or during the sale to deter bidders, should be reviewed.

Lellouche also noted that the annual balance of the import-export works of art between France and the U.S. was increasingly in the latter’s favour, and had risen by 900 per cent since 1990 to its current level of £135m. He said many dealers “have noted a strong tendency for major French collectors to move abroad over the last decade. Some say their main collectors now include only foreigners, or Frenchmen who have left the country.”

France has been inundated with reports on art market reform in the last few years, but Lellouche’s is the first by an active politician. As a member of the right-of-centre RPR, his views may not find a ready ear among the ruling Socialist party but, as Drouot’s “MP”, a former aide to President Chirac, and an antiques enthusiast who lists underwater archaeology among his hobbies, Lellouche’s credibility is not in doubt. “I’m on a crusade!” he told the Antiques Trade Gazette.

His report probably comes too late to have an impact on the draft law allowing foreign auctioneers to operate in France. Instead, Lellouche urges that art market fiscal reform “be among the priorities of France’s EU presidency in the second half of 2000”.

• Also speaking at the seminar, Sotheby’s French chief Laure de Beauvau Craon revealed that her firm expect to export £90m worth of art from France in 1999, a 50 per cent rise on 1998.