The European Commission on Thursday put forward new rules to clamp down on the illegal import and trafficking of cultural goods from outside the EU, often linked to terrorist financing and other criminal activity.
Thursday’s proposal marks one of the final steps set out in the Commission’s action plan to strengthen the fight against terrorism financing. It will stop this traffic in its tracks by banning the import into the EU of cultural goods exported illegally from their home countries. It comes just days after the Hamburg G20 called on countries to tackle terrorist finance, including the looting and smuggling of antiquities.
According to Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, “Money is oxygen to terrorist organizations such as Daesh. We are taking action to cut off each of their sources of financing. This includes the trade of cultural goods, as terrorists derive funding from the looting of archaeological sites and the illegal sale of cultural objects. By preventing them from entering the EU, we can help dry up this source of income.”
At the moment, the EU applies prohibitions on goods from Iraq and Syria but there is no general EU framework for the import of cultural goods. Current rules can be exploited by unscrupulous exporters and importers who can use the profits to fund illegal activities such as terrorism. Diverging and ineffective existing national legislation in this area means that EU action is necessary to ensure consistent treatment of imports of cultural goods all along the EU’s external borders. This will help prevent illicit cultural goods being brought into the EU, directly weakening the cultural, historical and archaeological life of the country of origin.
Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said, “The illegal trafficking of cultural goods is an issue of grave concern. Such activity can wreak serious damage on the cultural heritage of those countries that can least afford to protect their interests. Today’s proposal equips customs authorities with the right tools to ensure the EU market is closed for such goods.”
Plans for the new measures were first set out as part of the Commission’s European Agenda on Security and its 2016 action plan to strengthen the fight against the financing of terrorism. In February 2016, EU Member States recalled the importance of urgently enhancing the fight against the illicit trade in cultural goods and asked the Commission to propose legislative measures on this matter as soon as possible.
Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said, “The looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods deprives citizens of affected countries of a part of their cultural identity and destroys the cultural heritage of humankind. Today we are demonstrating the Commission’s commitment to protecting this global heritage, which we will showcase during the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage.”
Awareness campaigns targeting buyers of cultural goods, such as professional art market importers but also buyers of cultural goods in Europe are envisaged. In parallel, training sessions for customs officers and other law enforcement services will be organised by Member States in order to improve their ability to recognise suspicious shipments and to co-operate more efficiently in preventing illicit trade.
EU Member States will be obliged to ensure that effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties are in place for those who do not follow the rules, in particular for anyone who makes false statements or submits false information.