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Commission wants to facilitate the return of unlawfully removed national treasures

There is rising concern about increasing illegal trade in high cultural properties such as paintings, sculptures, religious property and archaeological pieces.The territory of the European Union, with an internal market without borders and a great cultural and historical heritage, is particularly affected. While most thefts are perpetrated in France, Poland, Germany and Italy, according to Interpol, all Member States are involved.

Therefore, the European Commission launched a public consultation on ways to improve the safe-keeping of cultural goods and the return between Member States of national treasures unlawfully removed from their territory. The consultation will provide an insight into the views of public authorities, citizens and other stakeholders on the most effective way to facilitate such return.

The protection of cultural property relies to a great extent on the legislation of the Member States. Nevertheless, the European Union also contributes to its protection, notably by means of Directive 93/7/EEC which establishes a mechanism for the return of certain national treasures that have been unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State after 1993. During the implementation of the Directive, Member States highlighted certain of its limitations, such as a one-year deadline for initiating recovery proceedings, with a direct consequence on its effectiveness.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship said: "Today, the illicit trafficking of cultural property is a major problem, going beyond a significant economic dimension, to affecting the core of our cultural identity. I share the increased concern of citizens and Member States and I am working to improve the situation. Please be a part of this effort and let us have your comments and ideas".

Interested parties may submit their contributions to the following address:

The public consultation will be open until 05 March 2012.

More information related to the current Directive and the implementation reports:


Council Directive 93/7/EEC was adopted to secure the return of certain categories of national treasures removed illegally from the territory of a Member State and located in the territory of another Member State.

The Directive aims at striking a balance between the free movement of cultural goods within Member States and the legitimate objective of each Member State to protect their national treasures possessing artistic, historical or archaeological value. The return obligation enshrined in the Directive applies only to items unlawfully removed since 1 January 1993.

According to the information given by the Member States, Directive 93/7/EEC is not effective. The most important problems relate to its scope and the conditions for using return proceedings. Moreover, it seems that cooperation and the exchange of information among the competent national authorities should also be improved. Thus, the Commission is of the opinion that it is necessary to explore the best way to achieve the return of unlawfully removed national treasures in the European Union.

Contacts :

Carlo Corazza +32 2 295 17 52

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