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The Finns appeared determined to force a vote on the issue before their presidency of the European Council expired at the end of the year, but at a meeting of the Council of Permanent Representatives the matter was deferred “for further consideration in the next presidency”.

France’s embarrassment came in the form of an official report commissioned from accountants Arthur Andersen which clearly demonstrated that droit de suite does distort the art market. Asked to assess the financial impact of the levy, they concluded that for a picture costing more than £14,000, a vendor would be well advised to sell in Geneva rather than Paris, and that once the value reached £20,600, it would be worth sending the work for sale in New York.

From Germany comes evidence that in 1998 only 274 living artists (less than four per cent of those registered) benefited from droit de suite, receiving an average of DM1860 (£581.25) each, while 206 heirs of dead artists received an average of DM17,000 (£5312.50 each). Not surprisingly the German Opposition is questioning droit de suite as a means of supporting struggling artists.

Armed with this information British representatives, who have shown an unflagging determination not to give way, ended the year in a strong position despite being technically outnumbered.

“I think this is a great achievement by the Government and especially by the Prime Minister, who has shown tremendous personal commitment to our cause in the face of the toughest opposition,” said Anthony Browne, the chairman of the British Art Market Federation.