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But France will not ratify the convention before next autumn at the earliest, after parliamentary elections in June and a debate in the Senate (upper house). Significantly, the government has recognised that ratification must be accompanied by a “law of application” ensuring that Unidroit does not contradict France’s constitution.

The French dealers’ association, the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, says it is “very satisfied” with the government’s stance. Christian Deydier, chairman of the Syndicat’s Undroit Commission, said that the prospect of Unidroit being “rushed through” parliament had been allayed by the Syndicat’s vigorous efforts to alert politicians to contradictions between Unidroit and the European Convention of the Rights of Man, notably Article 17 and its call for “just and prior compensation” in the event of expropriation.

Deydier claimed that the French trade “had lost a vote but won the battle”, and that UNESCO officials had emerged “long-faced” from the parliamentary debate, during which speakers from “all political parties” had “noted the problems” inherent in the Unidroit text. He added that the Syndicat would be in touch with BADA and TEFAF officials with a view to issuing a joint declaration during the Maastricht fair.