Friday 22 February 2013

New EU Legislation for Recovery of Illicitly-Removed National Treasures?

New legislation proposed by the European Commission may help EU member states to recover artefacts that illegally removed from their country. The full details of any new legislation seem not yet to be  published, so it is hard to work out what actually in involved (Elena Ralli, 'New legislation to facilitate recovery of illegally removed national treasures', New Europe February 19, 2013). Or indeed if anything has been written even.
The European Commission is planning to help Member States recover national treasures which have been unlawfully removed from their territory by amending its current legislation that has several inadequacies.
Understatement of the year. As a result of this the European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible nota bene for Industry and Entrepreneurship proposed today to strengthen the possibility for restitution available to Member States.
“Safeguarding the cultural heritage of all Member States is of major importance to the European Union. Our proposal is therefore necessary to further strengthen the effectiveness of the fight against illegal trafficking in cultural goods. [...] The proposed changes would apply to cultural goods classified as “national treasures” unlawfully removed after 1993 that are now located on the territory of another Member State.
The suggestions regarding the amendment of the legislation include extending the scope of the definition of cultural goods, extending the deadline for initiating return proceedings in the courts of the country where the property is now located, using the internal market information system to facilitate administrative cooperation and information exchanges between national authorities and finally, asking any possessor of an object requiring compensation for returning the object to prove it was not knowingly acquired illegally.
That last one's likely to put the heebie-jeebies on no-questions-asked dugup artefact collectors. It's basically requiring them to show they've asked all the right questions. This has wider implications also for object 'laundering' (passing looted items through the antiquities market of a third country before importing it to a second market country to make freshly-surfaced material appear 'clean' by obscuring its actual origins). US dealers often plead this "bought in Munich/Spain/Yurope" argument as if they do not really understand the question. If however internal EU legislation makes a certain type of transaction by definition illegal, this increases the chances of punishing somebody outside the EU who handles material deriving from such a transaction. The required internal record keeping also will now lead from smuggler to looter more effectively.   But its nice to see something that will override the outdated and inadequate 1970 UNESCO Convention, even if it is only with regard to "returnism/ restitution/ repatriation" rather than as a measure counteracting looting more effectively.

It is not clear what is meant by "national treasures" if the legislation concerns  cultural heritage as a whole (or "cultural goods/property"), and involves actually "extending the scope of the definition of cultural goods" (but does it also extend the scope of where they came from?). There seems a contradiction in terms, unless everything is a "national Treasure" which then brings the whole lot into conflict with other (for example English) legal definitions (which should be changed anyway). Is Glasgow Uni in any way involved in this?

See the present Council Directive 93/7/EEC of 15 March 1993 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State [with amending acts].

Hat tip to 'Elginism'

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