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Return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of an EU country
This directive secures the return of national treasures of artistic, historic or archaeological value that have been unlawfully removed from the territory of an European Union (EU) country once controls have been abolished at internal frontiers.
The purpose of the directive is to ensure the return of cultural objects classed as "national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value" under national legislation or administrative procedures, provided that they:
- fall within one of the categories listed in the annex to the directive;
- form an integral part of public collections recorded in the inventories of museums, archives or libraries or those of ecclesiastical institutions.
To apply the directive, European Union (EU) countries may class an object as a national treasure even after it has left their territory. They may also extend the scope of application to cultural objects that do not belong to any of the categories listed in the annex.
The directive applies where such objects have been removed from the territory of an EU country unlawfully, i.e. in breach of the legislation in force there or of the conditions under which temporary authorisation was granted. Consequently, the objects must be returned, irrespective of whether they have been moved within the Union or first exported to a non-EU country and then re-imported to another EU country.
The directive applies only to cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of an EU country on or after 1 January 1993. However, EU countries may broaden the scope to include objects that have been unlawfully removed from their territory before 1 January 1993.
Each EU country appoints one or more authorities to carry out the tasks provided for in the directive. The Commission publishes updated lists of these authorities in the Official Journal of the EU.
Administrative cooperation for the amicable return of objects
The central authorities of each EU country are to cooperate and promote consultation with the competent national authorities of other EU countries to ensure the return of cultural objects. The central authorities must:
- seek a specified cultural object that has been unlawfully removed from an EU country’s territory, identifying the possessor and/or holder *;
- notify the EU country concerned, where a cultural object is found in their own territory and there are grounds for believing that it has been unlawfully removed from the territory of another EU country;
- enable the EU country concerned to check within two months of the notification that the object in question is a cultural object covered by the directive;
- take any necessary measures for the physical preservation of the cultural object;
- prevent any action to evade the return procedure;
- act as intermediary between the possessor or holder of the object and the requesting EU country *.
Initiation of proceedings before a court for return of objects
Only the courts of the requested EU country * have the power to order the object's return to the requesting EU country if the possessor or holder should refuse to release it. The burden of proof is governed by the legislation of the requested EU country.
Only an EU country may initiate proceedings with the aim of securing the return of a cultural object. Private owners of cultural objects may only bring proceedings provided for under ordinary law.
Return proceedings may not be brought more than one year after the requesting EU country becomes aware of the location of the cultural object and the identity of its possessor or holder. To be admissible, the application must be accompanied by a:
- document describing the object covered by the request and stating that it is a cultural object within the meaning of the directive;
- declaration by the competent authorities of the requesting EU country that the cultural object has been unlawfully removed from its territory.
Such proceedings may in any case not be brought more than 30 years after the object is unlawfully removed from the territory of the requesting EU country, except in the case of objects forming part of public collections or ecclesiastical goods in respect of which the time-limit is governed by national legislation or bilateral agreements between EU countries.
This directive is without prejudice to any civil or criminal proceedings that may be brought, under the national law of EU countries, by the requesting EU country or the owner of the object.
When the return of a cultural object is ordered, the possessor is entitled to fair compensation if s/he proves that due care was exercised when acquiring the object. This compensation is to be paid by the requesting EU country, which may, however, claim reimbursement from the persons responsible for the unlawful removal of the object. Following the object's return, the question of its ownership is governed by the legislation of the requesting EU country.
The Committee on the Export and Return of Cultural Goods (previously known as Advisory Committee on Cultural Goods) assists the Commission in examining any matter relating to the application of the annex to the directive.
EU countries must send the Commission a report every three years on the application of the directive, based on which the Commission reports to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee.
|Act||Entry into force||Deadline for transposition in the Member States||Official Journal|
15.12.1993 (15.3.1994 for Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands)
OJ L 74 of 27.3.1993
|Amending act(s)||Entry into force||Deadline for transposition in the Member States||Official Journal|
OJ L 60 of 1.3.1997
OJ L 187 of 10.7.2001
Successive amendments and corrections to Directive 93/7/EEC have been incorporated in the basic text. This consolidated version is for reference purposes only.
AMENDMENT OF ANNEXES
Categories to which objects classified as national treasures must belong to qualify for return:
Directive 96/100/EC [Official Journal L 60 of 1.3.1997];
Directive 2001/38/EC [Official Journal L 187 of 10.7.2001].
- European Commission Directorate-General Enterprise and Industry website on cultural goods