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Trafficking of cultural goods

What is it about?

Trafficking in cultural goods is the unlawful removal or retention of cultural heritage, i.e. items possessing artistic, historic, or archaeological value to a particular country.

Why is it needed?

Trafficking in cultural goods can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from petty theft through illicit archaeological excavations  to the displacement of artefacts due to war.

Whatever the motive, the fact remains that it is one of the top criminal trades, and that current national and international mechanisms are neither adequately equipped nor supported to tackle the issue.

What is the Commission's role?

The Commission has identified several pressing issues in the field, such as:

  • a lack of consistent terminology and legal definitions, especially between EU languages;
  • a lack of consistent legislation between Member States;
  • a lack of information and data on trafficking in cultural goods.

The Commission is responsible for taking measures to ensure both that the evidence-base for its policy-making is sound, and that it can, in concert with other international organisations, develop effective measures to tackle the issue.

What has been done so far?

The European Commission already cooperates closely with a number of organisations to strengthen the regulatory environment. These include:

The fight against illicit trafficking is also considered by the EU in its relations with developing countries. For example, the Euromed Heritage programme, funded by the EU, has worked closely with UNESCO to build the capacity of national authorities, and the EU supports UNESCO's Action plan for Syria, specifically in tackling the illicit trafficking of cultural goodspdf(243 kB).

In addition to this, the EU's support to UNESCO's action plan for Mali, in coordination with other international partners, is currently being further developed in detail, integrating the inventory, digitization and protection of Tombouctou manuscripts to limit illicit trafficking in the region.

The European Commission organized a pan-African Workshop on the protection of cultural goods against plunder, theft and illicit trafficking in Morocco in January 2014.

The Commission also works internally to strengthen the evidence-base and policy framework, requiring cooperation between the departments for:

What are the next steps?

The Commission's work in the sector will continue, primarily through cooperation between international organisations in the field, as well as through discussions with Member States and information gathering operations.

The sector will also benefit from support through the Creative Europe programme, in addition to other European Commission initiatives, such as the ACPCultures+ programme; a €30 million initiative to promote cultural cooperation in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.