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In a speech to the French Senate on June 10, Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann called for “a reduction in, if not exoneration from, import VAT for works of art throughout the EU.”

The Antiques Trade Gazette has learned that Prime Minister Lionel Jospin approved Trautmann’s speech and has called on Pierre Moscovici, Minister in charge of EU relations, to raise the matter in Brussels at the earliest opportunity.

This change of heart follows intense lobbying from the Paris Trade, spearheaded by Oriental dealer Christian Deydier, who says he has received discreet encouragement from President Chirac.

“It is vital that our English colleagues keep up the fight,” Deydier said last week. “We can achieve nothing without their support. The war is not lost. Logically, we can now win.”

...auction law crawls on

The bill reforming France’s archaic auction system took the first official step towards the statute book on June 10, when it was approved on its first reading in a sparsely-populated Senate (upper chamber).

The bill must now be referred to a commission appointed by the Assemblée Nationale (lower chamber), which is entitled to amend the text voted in the Senate before the bill is read in the Assemblée. With the summer recess looming, this is unlikely to be before the autumn.

Even then, the reform will not necessarily become law.

If the bill is again amended, it will return to the Senate; if the Senate-approved text is not then approved by the Assemblée, a bicameral commission will examine it, and it will require a third reading in each house.

“There’s nothing very political at stake, so a couple of readings in each house should be enough,” a reassuring Drouot spokesman told the Antiques Trade Gazette.

That scenario would still almost certainly prevent the reform from becoming law this millennium.