Return of cultural goods
Council Directive 93/7/EEC on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State is a measure in support of internal market policy, which was adopted when internal frontiers were abolished on 1 January 1993. One of its main objectives is to reconcile the fundamental principle of the free movement of goods, as laid down by Article 34 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (TFEU), with the protection of national treasures, as set out in Article 36 of the TFEU.
Directive 93/7/EEC was adopted to ensure the return of cultural goods classified as "national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value" and belonging to the categories referred to in its Annex or forming an integral part of public collections or inventories of ecclesiastical institutions. The Annex contains a list of different categories of cultural goods that qualify for return, listed by age and by a certain value or financial threshold (e.g. archaeological objects of more than 100 years old, pictures and paintings executed by hand of more than 50 years old and with a value of €150 000).
The Directive provides for cooperation mechanisms and proceedings against the possessor for the return of a cultural object classified as a "national treasure" which belongs to one of the categories listed in the Annex when it has left the territory of a Member State unlawfully after 1 January 1993 and is located in the territory of another Member State.
Each Member State appoints one or more central authorities to carry out the tasks provided for in this Directive. The contact details of the central authorities [744 KB] are published in the Official Journal of the European Union on a regular basis.
The Directive complements Regulation (EC) N° 116/2009 [54 KB] on the export of cultural goods, which sets up uniform preventive controls at the Community's external borders allowing the competent authorities in the Member States (Culture and Customs) from which the cultural goods are to be exported to a third country to take account of the interests of the other Member States.
Evaluation of Directive 93/7/EEC
Pursuant to Article 16 of the Directive, the Commission has adopted four reports reviewing the application of this Directive by the Member States.
The last reports concluded that Directive 93/7/EEC is not sufficiently effective in recovering unlawfully removed national treasures and should be revised.
Fourth report - COM(2013) 310 final
Third report - COM(2009) 408 final [64 KB]
Second report - COM(2005) 675 final [171 KB]
First report - COM(2000) 325 final [147 KB]
A proposal for a new Directive
On 30 May 2013, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a new Directive aimed at enabling Member States to recover any cultural object identified as a “national treasure” that was unlawfully removed from their territories after 1 January 1993.
Most important proposed changes:
- Extending the scope to cover all cultural goods identified as "national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value", under national legislation or administrative procedures;
- Lengthening the deadline for initiating return proceedings;
- Using the internal market information system (IMI) to facilitate administrative cooperation and information exchange between central authorities carrying out the tasks provided for in the Directive;
- Placing the burden of proof on the possessor for the purpose of compensation in cases when the return is ordered. The possessor will be required to prove that, at the time of its acquisition, he exercised due care and attention when ascertaining the legal origin of the cultural object.
Who would benefit and how?
All citizens, local and regional authorities, religious institutions, EU countries and the EU as a whole will benefit through the improved protection of their cultural heritage.
Which it the legislative procedure?
The proposal has been negotiated by the European Parliament and by the Council. During its last plenary session, on 16 April 2014, the European Parliament voted in favour of the compromise text agreed with the Council. This text, which endorses the main changes proposed by the Commission, should now be adopted by the Council.
When is the proposal likely to come into effect?
The new Directive shall enter into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. Afterwards, Member States will have 18 months to transpose the new provisions of the Directive into their national laws.