Some countries in Europe have a strong industry devoted to cultural goods. Particularly, United Kingdom attracts a meaningful number of all cultural goods transactions that take place in the world.
The art market is a prime example of British achievement in a highly competitive global environment. Britain has 29% of the global art and antiques market and is the second largest market in the world, second in size only to the United States. The British art and antiques market generated £7.7 billion in sales and directly supported over 60,000 jobs in 2009.
This success is based, above all, on a fiscal and regulatory environment that has enabled the UK to attract the greatest works of art for sale because this market is highly dependent on crossborder trade: in 2009 art to the value of £2 billion was imported into the UK and exports totalled £2.2 billion.
In contrast to other regulations in force in Continental Law, like Spanish, French or Italian ones, which are characterized by rigidity, UK legislation on cultural goods are more flexible and less protective than the first ones.
The comparative chart below –Comparative Chart 1- depicts the differences between Spanish and English Regulations on Cultural Goods and explains itself why the English market of works of art is so relevant in the world.
Public opinion is often alarmed when media discover that important cultural goods coming from plundering are sold almost freely in foreign countries losing their track forever. In case of archeological items, the plundering is specially detrimental. The looting in archaeological digs before the objects have been classified and catalogued makes almost impossible to identify the origin of the items. So they arrive to foreign countries to be sold in the market, by direct sale or at auction, and the return to the origin countries becomes improbable.
How can it happen so easily? Is the regulation currently in force sufficient to fight against the illicit traffic of cultural goods?
Comparative chart 1
|NATIONAL TRADE||GENERAL RULE||-Free trade||-Right of first offer -Right of repurchase|
|EXCEPTIONS||-Treasure finds||Free trade: Goods non registered in Public Registries created for this purpose (Inventario General de Bienes Muebles e Registro de Bienes de Interés Cultural)|
|INTERNATIONAL TRADE||EXPORT LICENSE||-Certain cultural objects more than 50 years of age and valued above specified financial thresholds.||-For those cultural goods belonging to Spanish Heritage and: -More than 100 years of age -or registered in Inventario General de Bienes Muebles or in the process to be included in it. -Inexportable goods: Cultural goods registered in Registro General de Bienes de Interés Cultural or in the process to be included in it.|
|TERM TO GRANT||-In case it is considered the object does not satisfy any of the Waverley criteria, the licence can be granted in about 2 weeks.||–About 3 months.|
|CRITERIA TO GRANT||An object does not satisfy any of the Waverley criteria. -History -Aesthetics -Scholarship||-Undetermined criteria|
|IRREVOCABLE OFFER TO ACQUIRE THE CULTURAL GOOD||NO. If export license is refused applicant continues being owner.||YES. State can acquire the cultural goods within the term of 3 months from the day of application submit in exchange for paying the value declared by the applicant.|
|INFRIDGEMENT||-Subject to penalties including criminal prosecution under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. -Subject to seizure under the provisions of the same Act.||-Subject to penalties including criminal prosecution under Criminal Code. -Subject to seizure under Spanish Heritage Act (Ley 16/1985, de 25 de junio, del Patrimonio Histórico Español)|
II. Remedies currently in force
Remedies created to fight against irregular traffic of cultural goods have shown insufficient due to several reasons:
- Some national regulations (e.g. countries belonging to Civil Code System such as Spain or Italy) are excessively protectors to such extent that almost makes impossible or really difficult any kind of cultural goods transaction. The consequence of this lack of flexibility is the creation of an illegal, parallel field of commerce beyond the control of authorities, which includes cultural goods legally held by their owners who try to escape from legal limits, and those goods directly coming from plundering or illicit activities like robbery, undue appropriations, smuggling, etc.
- Some national regulations (e.g. countries belonging to Common Law system like United Kingdom) are too much permissive so no irregular commerce takes place but, in contrast, cultural goods are almost treated as common goods with only a few differences in relation to general regulation of goods transactions. This favorable system causes that a significant portion of heritage could disappear from its origin country.
- Transnational regulations passed by European Union Institutions are often impotent to fight against illegal commerce of cultural goods. Periodical reports publicized by European Commission show that the designed mechanisms are achieving very poor results. It must be emphasised that there is not any European Directive or Regulation directly aimed at the fighting against plundering of cultural goods and its consequences. The current regulation deals with cultural goods exportation and the consequences of breach of the exportation procedure. See Council Regulation (EC) No 116/2009 of 18 December 2008 on the export of cultural goods and Council Directive 93/7/EEC of 15 March 1993 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State.
- International regulations to fight against plundering and illicit exportation are also insufficient to achieve their main purpose. A fundamental reason to this lack of effectiveness is the fact that a lot of countries have not signed or ratified the main International Agreements passed in order to protect cultural goods from unlawful activities. Particularly countries like USA and UK, where take place the most transactions of antiques and work of arts have not sign the UNIDROIT Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects 24 June 1995.
As regards to Spanish Law and the return of cultural goods unlawfully removed from the Spanish territory, the deficiencies assessed have been analyzed in my recent article “El comercio de bienes culturales de ilícita procedencia o titularidad controvertida: control, reclamación e impunidad”, publicized in the legal journal Noticias Jurídicas.
III. Possible solutions
Possible solutions can be studied from several perspectives:
- National Law, analyzing the idea to pass new, balanced regulations that combine flexibility and control in transactions on cultural goods, so they do not impede the lawful commerce but without waiving the preservation of historic heritage.
- Transnational, European Law, introducing new Regulations and/or Directives dealing with the cultural goods coming from plundering or criminal provenance, boosting measures of control to be complied by all the operators in the market of cultural goods, such as art and antiques dealers, auction houses, art galleries, etc, similar to the ones used in Anti-Money Laundering EU Regulations.
- International Law, forcing national authorities to pass harmonic and balanced regulations in the sense given at 1); extending measures of control to be complied by all the operators in the market of cultural goods, similar to the ones used in Anti-Money Laundering Worldwide Regulations.
Lawyer. Recognised specialist in the law applicable to the art market, historical heritage and antiques. He participates in the International Research Project “Right and Beauty. From Common Good to Universal Good” at the Università della Calabria (Italy)
 ARTS ECONOMICS 2009. The British Art Market. A Winning Global Entrepôt. Lapada: The Association of Art & Antiques Dealers [en línea]. [Consulta: 9 enero 2015]. Disponible en: http://www.lapada.org/public/The_British_art_Market.pdf.
 COMISIÓN EUROPEA, 2000. Informe de la Comisión al Consejo, al Parlamento Europeo y al Comité Económico y Social sobre la aplicación del Reglamento (CEE) n° 3911/92 del Consejo relativo a la exportación de bienes culturales y de la Directiva 93/7/CEE del Consejo relativa a la restitución de bienes culturales que hayan salido de forma ilegal del territorio de un Estado miembro [en línea]. 25 mayo 2000. S.l.: s.n. [Consulta: 6 enero 2015]. Disponible en: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/ES/ALL/?uri=CELEX:52000DC0325. /* COM/2000/0325 final */; COMISIÓN EUROPEA, 2005. Informe de la Comisión al Consejo, al Parlamento Europeo y al Comité Económico y Social Europeo – Segundo informe sobre la aplicación de la Directiva 93/7/CEE del Consejo, relativa a la restitución de bienes culturales que hayan salido de forma ilegal del territorio de un Estado miembro [en línea]. 21 diciembre 2005. S.l.: s.n. [Consulta: 6 enero 2015]. Disponible en: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/ES/ALL/?uri=CELEX:52005DC0675. /* COM/2005/0675 final */; COMISIÓN EUROPEA, 2009. Informe de la Comisión al Consejo, al Parlamento Europeo y al Comité Económico y Social Europeo – Tercer informe sobre la aplicación de la Directiva 93/7/CEE del Consejo, relativa a la restitución de bienes culturales que hayan salido de forma ilegal del territorio de un Estado miembro [en línea]. 30 julio 2009. S.l.: s.n. [Consulta: 6 enero 2015]. Disponible en: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/ES/ALL/?uri=CELEX:52009DC0408. /* COM/2009/0408 final */
 OJ L 39, 10.2.2009, p. 1–7.
 Official Journal L 074, 27/03/1993 P. 0074 – 0079. New Directive has been passed in 2014 and will entry in force in 2015: Directive 2014/60/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State and amending Regulation (EU) No 1024/2012, Official Journal L 159/1, 28.5.2014.
 Vid. http://noticias.juridicas.com/