New measures to strengthen the protection of cultural heritage within the European Union, and to make it easier to repatriate trafficked artefacts to Member States, are to be discussed by the European Commission.
Proposed by EC Vice President Antonio Tajani, the initiative includes expanding the definition of cultural goods to encompass all ‘national treasures of artistic, historic or archaeological value’; extending the deadline for initiating return proceedings; improving information sharing between national authorities on the movement of culturally significant objects; and, where compensation is sought following the confiscation of an artefact, placing the burden of proof on the possessor to demonstrate that the object was not knowingly acquired illegally.
‘Safeguarding the cultural heritage of all Member States is of major importance to the European Union,’ said Antonio Tajani. ‘Our proposal is therefore necessary to further strengthen the effectiveness of the fight against illegal trafficking in cultural goods. The harmful effect on our national treasures represent a serious threat to the preservation of the origins and history of our civilization.’
The new proposals would modify Directive 93/7/EEC, On the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State. Passed in 1993, it was designed to reconcile the desire for free movement of goods between countries and the need to prevent trafficking of cultural objects. Recent evaluations carried out by the EC suggest that the Directive has been of limited effect in deterring criminals or preventing trade in artefacts of unknown provenance, however.
EC Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, and Youth, said: ‘We all agree about the high value of European heritage and the need to use all available means to protect it, including EU measures. I believe that information relating to illegally removed goods must circulate more quickly and widely and stronger cooperation between the Member States’ responsible authorities is needed.’
Proposals to update the Directive will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Commission. Once adopted, Member States will have one year to comply with the new provisions.