What is it about?

Trafficking in cultural goods is the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. This refers to items of for archaeologic, prehistorical, historical, literary, artistic or scientific importance.

It can take different forms, ranging from theft from cultural heritage institutions or private collections, through the looting of archaeological sites to the displacement of artefacts due to war.

Why is it needed?

Trafficking in cultural goods severely damages the cultural heritage of countries who suffer from it. It can be linked to organised crime, money laundering and terrorism.

International cooperation is one of the most efficient means of protecting cultural property against this threat.

What is the Commission's role?

The Commission gathers evidence to support policies against cultural trafficking and cooperates with other international organisations to put effective measures in place.

Pressing issues include:

  • developing consistent terminology and legal definitions, especially between EU languages
  • making legislation more consistent across EU countries, in particular concerning the importing of cultural goods into the EU
  • addressing the lack of information and data on trafficking in cultural goods.
  • encouraging information sharing between relevant authorities

In February 2016, the Commission's Action Plan

  • In 2011, a study was published on combatting trafficking in cultural goods

Eurojust (the EU's judicial cooperation unit), Europol (the EU's law enforcement agency) and CEPOL (EU agency for training law enforcement officials) coordinate investigations, criminal prosecutions and the exchange of information between EU countries.

EU-CULTNET is an informal network of law enforcement authorities and experts on cultural goods, set up by the Council in October 2012 for the purpose of preventing and combating crime against cultural goods.

International cooperation

The European Commission cooperates closely with international organisations to strengthen the regulatory environment. These include:

The European Commission provided support for ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods and for COLOSSEUM - a joint customs operation combating illegal trafficking of cultural goods within the EU and to and from non-EU countries.

The fight against illicit trafficking is considered by the EU in its relations with third countries.

For example, the Euromed Heritage programme worked with UNESCO to build the capacity of national authorities and cultural heritage professionals in Mediterranean partner countries. In January 2014, the European Commission organised a pan-African workshop in Morocco on the protection of cultural goods.

Syria and Mali

The EU supports the UNESCO action plans for Syria and Mali.

  • In Syria, an ongoing project looks to stop the loss of cultural heritage and prepare post-conflict priority actions
  • In Mali, a part EU-funded project includes the inventory, digitisation and protection of Timbuktu manuscripts to safeguard against the risk of trafficking

What are the next steps?

The Commission's work in the sector will continue, primarily through cooperation with international organisations and information gathering operations.

As required by the Council conclusions on terrorist financing and outlined in the Action Plan for detailed timeline).