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Return of illegally exported cultural objects: simpler rules

Recovering cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of an EU member state will become easier and less costly, thanks to more flexible procedures. The Culture and Education Committee approved a revision of a 1993 directive on Tuesday, to make proof of "due diligence" mandatory before compensating of people in possession of recovered objects.

Several EU countries, such as Italy, Poland, France, and Germany and Romania, have suffered serious thefts and illegal exports of cultural heritage goods since the single market was created.

Any object which is classified by a member state’s national law as a "national treasure", and which was unlawfully removed from its territory after 1993, could henceforth be recovered by means of a more flexible return procedure. To enable repatriation of the largest possible number of objects, all age and financial value limits have been deleted from the new text.

National authorities in charge of recovery procedures will also get more time to classify objects and apply for their restitution:

6 months, up from the current 2 months, to establish whether an object found in another member state constitutes a classified cultural object, illegally removed from its territory, and

3 years, instead of the current one year, for the requesting member state to file a claim for restitution.

"Due diligence" to become mandatory

The new rules should also reduce costs for member states claiming restitution, because compensation to persons in possession of a cultural object would henceforth be linked to an exercise of "due diligence". Accordingly, a person who possesses a cultural object claimed by a member state would have prove that when acquiring the object, he or she took all necessary steps to ascertain that it came from a legal source: the circumstances of the acquisition, the exit permits required and and consultation of stolen cultural object registers would be taken into account. If the possessor cannot provide such evidence, the claimant state would no longer be required to pay him or her compensation.

These provisions should ensure that the legislation is transposed more uniformly into national laws.

Greater transparency and closer administrative cooperation

MEPs urge member states to improve transparency and ensure that their authorities exchange information in order to facilitate non-legal cooperation and combat smuggling of works of art.

Statistics on crimes against national heritage

The European Commission estimates that about 8,000 crimes against national heritage are committed, and about 40,000 cultural objects illegally removed, every year. Internationally, cultural objects are the third most smuggled item, after drugs and arms, according to UNESCO and UN statistics.

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