Today the European Parliament voted in favour of a new directive to help EU countries organise the return of cultural objects that were unlawfully removed from their state and are currently located in another EU country. The new legislation aims at securing the recovery by an EU Member State of any cultural item identified as "national treasures of artistic, historic or archaeological value" which were illegally removed from its territory on or after 1 January 1993. It will give better protection to objects that form part of the cultural heritage of the Member States and will contribute to the prevention and fight against illicit trafficking in cultural objects.
European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship commented: "The Member States' cultural heritage is a valuable asset. It forms part of Europe's rich and diverse cultural traditions. The new Directive shows the determination of the European Parliament to help Member States safeguard their national treasures and we are convinced that this initiative is also supported by the Council".
The new Directive covers a number of aspects, including:
Extending its scope to all cultural objects classified as "national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value". Under Directive 93/7/EEC only a list of certain categories of national treasures or objects forming part of public collections or inventories of ecclesiastical institutions are qualified for return.
Using an electronic tool, the Internal Market Information System (IMI), to facilitate administrative cooperation, consultation and exchange of information among national authorities.
Extending of the deadline to initiating return proceedings from 1 to 3 years.
Placing the burden of proof on the possessor, if they seek compensation for the loss of the cultural object when it is returned to its original country. To obtain compensation, the possessor should prove that when they originally purchased the good, they exercised due care and attention in ascertaining its origin. Moreover, the new Directive provides for non-exhaustive criteria to facilitate a more uniform interpretation of the exercise of "due care and attention" by the possessor.
The proposal will now be submitted to the Council for its final approval. Once approved by the Council, EU countries will be obliged to integrate the Directive into national law within 18 months of the Directive's adoption.
Council Directive 93/7/EEC aims at the return of cultural objects classified as "national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value" and belonging to the categories referred to in its Annex or forming an integral part of public collections or inventories of ecclesiastical institutions, which have been unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State on or after 1 January 1993.
The Annex of Directive 93/7/EEC contains a list of different categories of cultural goods that qualify for return, listed by age and by a certain value or financial threshold (e.g. archaeological objects of more than 100 years old, pictures executed by hand of more than 50 years old and with a value of €150 000).
The Directive provides for administrative cooperation mechanisms and judicial return proceedings against the possessor for the return of a cultural object classified as a "national treasure" when it has left the territory of a Member State unlawfully and is located in the territory of another Member State.
In the light of national reports submitted by Member States and evaluations prepared by the European Commission, it appears that Directive 93/7/EEC is barely used and is of limited effect. Therefore, the Commission adopted, on the 30 May 2013, a proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State [COM (2013) 311 final]. The proposal, which recast Directive 93/7/EEC, as amended by Directives 96/100/EC and 2001/38/EC, aimed at enabling Member States to secure the return of any cultural object which is classified as a national treasure and has been unlawfully removed from their territory.
IP/13/477: Easier repatriation of illegally removed national treasures