Ministers for the Arts meet to discuss art exports under new EEC regulations

Dondelinger proposes uniform controls on external borders and a restitution system


Work started earlier this year on establishing art-export arrangements after 1992, when the markets of the twelve EEC member states will be unified (see The Art Newspaper No.5, February 1991). At the 7 June meeting of the respective Ministers for the Arts, Dondelinger proposed a uniform system of control at the external borders of the Community combined with a system of restitution of art-objects illicitly exported from one member state to another. Furthermore, he put forward an interpretation of Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome which allows member states to protect “national treasures of artistic, historical and archeological value”. His proposals for the arrangements at the external border could prove to be the most controversial aspect: the UK would resist any bureaucratically cumbersome solution. It is however encouraging that Dondelinger, reputed to favour a rather protectionistic approach, has taken on board the views of Article 36 advocated by the more liberal Internal Market and Industrial Affairs Directorate-General.

The Ministers for the Arts have also discussed informally the progress of the Intergovernmental Conference on the revision of the Treaty, in particular of the proposed article concerning national culture. The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of Ministers has prepared a draft article suggesting that the EEC will “contribute to the flourishing of the culture of the Member States and at the same stress the European cultural dimension and identity” by “encouraging” and ‘if necessary, supporting and completing” the member states’ policies in a number of fields, including heritage conservation and training.

Various member states, including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are unhappy with the article. Some fear the financial consequences of Community intervention and some perceive the Community responsibility in this field to be opposed to their system of arts administration. The UK sees no need for it and opposes it, especially if cultural matters are to be subject to qualified majority voting. It is unclear whether the UK will raise objections and press for clarifications or whether it will put forward an alternative formulation of the article. It is likely that the UK will, in the end, have to accept it unless the Netherlands, who are taking over the Presidency of the Council in July, succeed in sweeping it under the carpet.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 10 July 1991