European Commission

The entrance to the Berlaymont Building, headquarters of the European Commission. Photo: Christophe Licoppe Via European Union. The EU launched a crackdown on the movement of illicitly exported cultural goods.

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The European Union crackdown, first proposed in July 2017 by the European Commission and now adopted, is designed to stop the movement within the EU of cultural goods illicitly exported from their country of origin.

The regulation was specifically drawn up in an attempt to stop illicit trafficking of antiquities – a perceived source of income for terrorists and organised crime groups.

The new rules (see below) increase the administrative burden on the art and antiquities trade. In summary, the law will require cultural objects of more than 200 years old that originated outside the EU to have identifying documents when imported into the EU.

However, a large part of the regulation will not come into force until an electronic licensing system is in place which could take up until 2025.

It is also unclear whether the new regulation will be enforced in the UK, in the light of Brexit negotiations.

Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), said: “The wording is quite badly thought through. It is, however, a lot less damaging than the original text.

“Lobbying associations including BAMF and The European Art Market Coalition ensured some improvements. It will be most intrusive for the antiquities market but will also have an impact on Oriental art too.”

Joanna van der Lande, chairman of the Antiquities Dealers’ Association (ADA), said: “It will disproportionately impact those wishing to import archaeological artefacts originating from anywhere in the world outside the EU.

Administrative burden

“This will increase the administrative burden on what are mostly small and medium-sized businesses but, more worryingly, the regulation will prevent the import of many archaeological and historic artefacts that are legitimately circulating on the art and antiques market.

“Legal sanctions are already in place to protect countries at risk and could simply have been extended. Instead the EU has delivered a considerable blow to the legitimate art market while adding to its own financial and administrative burdens.”

The antiquities trade is particularly concerned about the specifics of the evidence that the EU now requires.

Ivan Macquisten, adviser to The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), said: “In many (if not most) cases it is likely to prove impossible to provide proof [of past legal export] because of how far back in time the original export might have taken place, the difficulty in identifying when that was, the likelihood that no information exists on what relevant laws applied at the time and the almost certain lack of paperwork.”

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers was less scathing of the new rules.

“The result for booksellers is fairly satisfying,” said executive secretary Angelika Elstner.

“This outcome is the result of a strong campaign by ILAB and its member associations who worked relentlessly for months in their respective countries to create awareness of the consequences the initial proposal would have had on the trade and asked for amendments. It shows the power associations can have when these matters arise.”

A summary of the new regulation governing the import of cultural goods into the EU:

■ Cultural items such as antiques and books more than 200 years old and valued above €18,000 each that originated from outside the EU will require the owner to produce an importer statement, backed by detailed identifying documents, warranting that the items have been legally exported.

■ Cultural items such as archaeological works more than 250 years old originating from outside the EU will require lawful import licences from the country of origin, regardless of value. Exemptions may apply if the country in which the item was created or discovered cannot be reliably determined or it was prior to April 24, 1972, and only if the item has been legally exported from the last country that it was in for five years or more.