Security Union: Agreement to crack down on illicit trade in cultural goods - EU monitor

EU monitor
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Source: European Commission (EC)i, published on Wednesday, December 19 2018.

The Commission welcomes the political agreement reached by the European Parliament and EU Member States on preventing the illicit trade in cultural goods, in particular when it contributes to the financing of terrorism.

Today's agreement is an important step for the Commission's Action Plan to strengthen the fight against terrorism financing. The agreed rules will ensure that Member States can clamp down on the illicit trade in cultural goods when they are exported to the EU from non-EU countries.

Provisionally agreed by the Parliament and Council in Strasbourg last week, the new rules were given a formal green light by EU Permanent Representatives at their meeting in Brussels this afternoon.

Welcoming the political agreement, Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said: "The new rules agreed today will help us combat the illicit trade in cultural goods, which is often used to finance terrorists and organised crime. We cannot accept that terrorists steal cultural goods from vulnerable areas in the world and sell them illegally in order to finance terrorist attacks against European citizens. This is a menace that must be stamped out.

The EU already prohibits the import of cultural goods from Iraq and Syria but there is no general EU framework for the import of cultural goods from other countries. This lack of rules can be exploited by unscrupulous exporters and importers who circumvent prohibitions by exporting the goods into the EU from a different non-EU country. Common EU rules will ensure consistent treatment of imports of cultural goods all along the Union's external borders. This will help prevent illicit cultural goods being brought into the EU and from directly weakening the cultural, historical and archaeological heritage of the country of origin.

The following actions shall ensure that the importation of illicit cultural goods becomes much more difficult:

  • Customs authorities will also have the power to seize and retain goods when it cannot be demonstrated that the cultural goods in question have been legally exported.
  • A new common EU definition for 'cultural goods' at importation which covers a broad range of objects including archaeological finds, the remains of historical monuments, manuscripts and rare books, artwork, collections and antiques. The new rules will apply to cultural goods that have been shown to be most at risk.
  • The introduction of a new licensing system for the import of archaeological objects and elements of monuments that have been dismantled. Importers will have to obtain import licences from competent cultural authorities in the EU before they can bring such goods into the Union.
  • For less sensitive categories of cultural goods, importers will now have to exercise a higher degree of due diligence when purchasing the items as they will be required to submit to customs a signed statement or affidavit that the goods have been exported legally from the third country.

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.

The rules provisionally agreed are even more relevant given the celebration this year of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 and the 50th anniversary of the EU's Customs Union. Similarly, the protection of cultural heritage has been defined as a key objective of the Joint Communication 'Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations'.

Next steps

The provisional agreement must now be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Further technical work will also be needed in order to adopt the necessary implementing measures which will lay down procedural details.


Security has been a political priority since the beginning of the Juncker Commission's mandate - from President Juncker's Political Guidelines of July 2014 to the latest State of the Union Address on 12 September 2018.

The European Agenda on Security guides the Commission's work in this area, setting out the main actions to ensure an effective EU response to terrorism and security threats, including cutting terrorist financing. Plans for the new measures to crack down on illicit trade in cultural goods were first set out in that Agenda 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.

For more information

Q&A on new proposal to fight illicit trade in cultural goods

DG TAXUD webpage on the new proposal to fight illicit trade in cultural goods

More information about the European Year of Cultural Heritage



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