The Regulation targeting the import of art and antiques into the EU
In 2019, the European General Affairs Council adopted a new EU Regulation affecting the import of cultural goods into the EU.
A regulation which aims to crack down on illicit trade and terrorist financing, the legislation intends to stop the import into the EU of cultural goods which have not been lawfully exported from their country of creation or discovery. The Regulation is drafted to fill a gap in EU legislation; although the EU already prohibits imports of cultural goods from Iraq and Syria there is a lack of framework around imports of cultural goods from other countries. The intentions of the Regulation are clearly admirable, but it seems unavoidable that this will have a significant effect on the EU’s art and antiques import markets.
How will it work?
The Regulation lays down a set procedure and criteria for the import of ‘cultural goods’ into the EU. Cultural goods are widely defined, including pictures, paintings, drawings, sculpture, engravings, antique coins and products of archaeological excavations.
Very vulnerable cultural goods will need an import licence to be granted by the country of import. This category includes elements of historical monuments and products of archaeological excavations more than 250 years old. The financial value of the object is of no importance.
The process will involve applying to the country of import for an import licence; the application must be accompanied by evidence that the cultural goods have been lawfully exported from their country of creation or discovery. The competent authority from the importing country will then decide whether to issue the import licence or reject the application.
Cultural goods deemed to be less vulnerable (including paintings, drawings and antique coins) will require an import statement to be submitted by the importer that the goods have been lawfully exported from their country of creation or discovery. However, this is only required where the object is more than 200 years old and is worth at least €18,000.
Central electronic database
Member States will be required to implement a central electronic system, which will collect information regarding these import licences and statements. This is intended to facilitate the storage and exchange of information on these goods.
The Regulation does provide for exceptions to these rules, including, for example, the temporary import of cultural goods for exhibition. There are also derogations; if the country of creation or discovery cannot be reliably determined, or if the items were removed from that country before 24 April 1972, the importer can instead provide evidence that the goods were lawfully exported form the last country where they were located for more than five years. This is provided the goods were located there for purposes other than temporary use, transit, re-export or transhipment.
It is of no surprise that this Regulation has been met with hostility in the art and antiques markets, and suggestions and amendments have been put forward by associations including CINOA (the International Confederation of Art and Antique dealer associations) IADAA (the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art) and ILAB (the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers).
The text has indeed been subject to changes. Some problems do, however, look likely to remain; the lack of a clear definition of cultural goods and the difficulties that will be faced by importers where import documentation is genuinely and honestly lost or unavailable being key concerns.
The Regulation has today been published in the Official Journal of the European Union. A significant amount of work is needed, however, in order for the legislation to come into full effect. The Regulation provides for implementing acts to be to adopted within two years of the Regulation coming into force, and then for the central electronic system to be operational within four years after the first of those implementing acts. As such, it is expected that the Regulation will be effective at some point between 2024 and 2026.
As this legislation is complex and is still yet to fully come into effect, up to date advice should be sought when considering the import of cultural goods into the EU.