MEPs strengthened the conditions under which cultural items as manuscripts or archaeological objects can be imported to the EU to ensure they are not used to finance terrorism.
The new rules aim to tackle an alternative financing source for terrorism and to preserve the cultural heritage of humanity, by stopping the entry to the EU of cultural goods that were unlawfully exported from third countries. Currently, there are no common EU rules on the import of cultural goods, except from Syria and Iraq.
Under the proposed regulation, cultural goods—including archaeological objects, parts of monuments, incunabula, manuscripts, mosaics, drawings, engravings, photographs, books—can only enter the Union if they have either an import licence or are accompanied by an importer statement.
Trade and internal market MEPs strengthened the rules establishing how an importer must demonstrate lawful export from the source country or a third country of the artefact. They removed the 250-years minimum age limit set in the Commission’s proposal, adding minimum financial values instead.
MEPs decided that applying for and registering licences must be done electronically, in order to facilitate the procedure and for reasons of legal certainty. Importer statements will also have to be registered electronically.
The Commission must ensure that micro, small and medium-sized enterprises benefit from adequate technical and financial assistance, says the amended text. A dedicated website should be established to make it easier for SMEs to find all relevant information.
Customs authorities will have the power to seize and temporarily retain cultural goods when the legality of the export cannot be demonstrated. Adequate conservation conditions must be guaranteed, MEPs added.
The two committees emphasized the need for information exchange among member states, and the levying of similar penalties for non-compliance in the various EU countries.
MEPs also insisted on informing future purchasers through awareness raising campaigns, and organising specialised trainings for law enforcement and customs staff in order to improve their ability to recognise suspicious shipments and to co-operate more efficiently, echoing requests already stated in a 2015 resolution.
Several amendments seek to ensure a proper balance between curbing the illicit import of cultural goods and making sure that the proposed controls and additional obligations do not pose an undue burden to licit economic operators in art market.
“After long and complicated negotiations, a wide cross-party majority sent a strong message in support of a value-based trade policy. Europe, once again, is leading the fight for a fairer globalisation. Today we made a step towards the effective protection of cultural heritage, which is endangered by one of the most lucrative and dangerous illegal traffic globally. This is the Europe we stand for: a Europe that protects,” said rapporteur for the International Trade Committee Alessia Maria Mosca (S&D, IT).
"Whilst I am disappointed with the outcome that got us here, as co-rapporteur I will work with colleagues to resolve as many of the remaining issues as I see them in the forthcoming plenary vote. I am pleased we have made a number of improvements, but the text isn't perfect. The key provisions need more work to be suitable for customs authorities and companies alike. If we can't manage this the objective we all share – to protect cultural heritage from illicit trafficking which finances terrorism – will struggle to be achieved”, said rapporteur for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee Daniel Dalton(ECR, UK).
What is next?
The amendments to the Commission’s proposal were approved by the joint committee with 56 votes in favour, four against and three abstentions. The Council (member states) has yet to agree on its position. Trilogues (three-way talks between Parliament, Council and Commission) can only start after plenary votes on the report and the Council has reached its position.
Cultural goods are items important for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science. Together with the trafficking in drugs and weapons, the black market of antiquities and culture constitutes one of the most persistent illegal trades in the world, according to UNESCO.
The fight against the illicit trade in cultural goods is a key EU action during 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage.