Fair practices for identifying and recovering art looted during war

European Parliament 11 December 2018
The EU must develop fair practices in art trade, as a way to counter trafficking of cultural goods and the development of an illegal art market, say Legal Affairs MEPs.

In the draft report adopted on Monday with 18 votes to 1, the Legal Affairs Committee denounces the lack of EU legislation governing the restitution of claims for art looted in wars, as well as the opacity of the current international practices in this field.

The cross-border character of looted art during armed conflict or war creates legal challenges for their return as procedures often concern various national jurisdictions, and international and European legal requirements are often fragmented and unclear.

Comprehensive listing of Jewish-owned artworks

MEPs consider particularly important to create a listing of all cultural objects, including Jewish-owned cultural goods plundered by the Nazis and their allies “from the time of their spoliation to the present day”. They call on the European Commission to develop a cataloguing system, available both to public entities and to private art collections, for data collection on the situation of looted cultural goods and the status of existing claims.

Looted art to finance terrorist activity

The draft report highlights that in recent years, warring factions and terrorist entities over the world have perpetuated a series of crimes against world cultural heritage, with profits potentially used to finance terrorist activities. MEPs stress that it is essential to make a firm commitment against illicit trafficking in cultural goods, such as art plundered during the armed conflicts and wars in Libya, Syria and Iraq, and to protect cultural goods of major historic and scientific importance.

Transparent and ethical art market

MEPs encourage the Commission to cooperate and establish partnerships with third countries, in the creation of a fully transparent, accountable and ethical global art market. They also reiterate that the close cooperation between police and customs services at a European and global level is essential in combatting illicit arts trafficking.

Lastly, the draft report underlines that education plays an important role in the respect of symbols of cultural heritage and the prevention of looting and illicit trade, and call on the Commission and member states to encourage and support awareness raising activities.

Next steps

The own-initiative report will be put to a vote in plenary during the January session in Strasbourg.


It is estimated that during the Second World War more than 600 000 works of art and cultural goods were stolen from Jewish families, gallery owners and collectors, many of which are still missing. Nuremberg Tribunal ruled that certain looting conducted after September 1, 1939 was a crime against humanity.

It is difficult to estimate precisely the size of the market of looted artefacts. Nonetheless, studies agree that it is a prosperous market that represents the third biggest illegal market following those for drugs and weapons.

In July 2017, that the European Commission proposed new rules to stop imports into the Union of cultural goods illegally exported from their country of origin. The proposal aims to stop the illegal trafficking of cultural goods for the purposes of financing terrorism.

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