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European Union: Revision of Directive on Return of Unlawfully Removed Cultural Objects

(Dec. 6, 2011) On November 29, 2011, the European Commission launched a public consultation inviting interested stakeholders, such as museums, libraries, archives, and cultural or customs authorities, to submit their ideas on a possible revision of Directive 1993/7/EEC on the Return of Cultural Objects Unlawfully Removed from the Territory of a Member State, as amended. (1993 OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION [O.J.] (L 74) 74.) The consultation will remain open to the public for comments until March 5, 2012. The European Union (EU) Member States are primarily responsible for safeguarding their cultural heritage through the adoption of patrimony laws, implementation of EU legislation related to cultural objects, and ratification of international conventions on cultural property during armed conflict or occupations and on illicit trafficking of cultural objects. (European Commission, Public Consultation on Possible Revision of Directive 1993/7/EEC on the Return of Cultural Objects Unlawfully Removed from EU Member Countries, EUROPA (last visited Dec. 1, 2011).)

Directive 1993/7/EEC was designed to facilitate the return of cultural “national treasures,” classified as such by EU Members, that were unlawfully removed from their territory. It provided for a cooperation mechanism and a procedure to return the national treasures. However, in light of feedback provided by EU Members in subsequent evaluation reports, the Commission expressed the view that the provisions of this Directive were not functioning successfully, and it acknowledged the need for a future review. (Id.)

A related measure, Regulation No. 116/2009 on the Export of Cultural Goods (2009 O.J. (39) 1) establishes an export certificate for cultural objects exported to third countries. No plans for possible revision of this Regulation have been announced. (Public Consultation on Possible Revision of Directive 1993/7/EEC on the Return of Cultural Objects Unlawfully Removed from EU Member Countries, supra.)