New EU Directive on return of cultural objects now implemented

Posted on: January 12, 2016 by

As of last month, the UK has brought into force the necessary regulations to implement the 2014/60 EU Directive on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State. In fact, the deadline for all EU Member States to bring about this change in their national law was 18 December 2015.

The 2014 Directive set out to change the much earlier 1993 Council Directive 93/7/EEC on the same topic because the experience of the last twenty odd years had shown that the measures introduced, which provided for the return between Member States of cultural objects unlawfully taken from one country to another, had not been effective. The main criticism was that the scope of coverage for “cultural objects” was far too narrow (and included a number of date and financial thresholds for many objects to qualify) and that the time limit in which a requesting state had to act was too tight.

So after much wise consideration, the European Parliament and Council enacted the 2014 version. As a result, the breadth of the term “cultural object” is significantly increased. The pesky age and financial thresholds have been removed (such as, for example, the threshold for pictures which had originally been set at the amount of “150,000 ecus”). Member States are now given more time to run internal checks on missing objects that have turned up in another State. And the time limit in which Member States can take action after becoming aware of the location of an object and the identity of its possessor has been bumped up from 1 year to 3 years.

Is it better? Will it allow for more intra-European returns of unlawfully removed cultural objects? Only time will tell.

One thing hasn’t changed. There is still a longstop limitation on any proceedings brought after 30 years of the unlawful removal of the object (with exceptions for objects forming part of a public collection or coming from an ecclesiastical or religious institution, for which the limitation period is 75 years). One wonders if a loosening of this restriction would have also helped increase the success of the Directive’s aims.

The new regulations in the UK implementing the recast Directive are the Return of Cultural Objects (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which came into force on – you guessed it – 18 December 2015. Not a moment to soon, it might be added.

For an earlier post commenting on the Directive, see here.