Draft Council Regulation amending Regulation (EEC) No. 3911/92 on
the export of cultural goods.
Draft Council Directive amending Council Directive 93/7/EEC on the
return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a
||(a) Article 133 EC; qualified majority voting
(b) Article 95 EC; qualified majority voting
||Culture, Media and Sport
|Basis of consideration:
||Minister's letter of 9 March
|Previous Committee Report:
||HC 28-vi (2000-01), paragraph 4 (14 February 2001)
|To be discussed in Council:
10.1 In the context of the operation of
the single market, Regulation (EEC) No. 3911/92 and Directive
97/3/EEC seek to reconcile the fundamental principle of free movement
of cultural goods with that of the protection of national treasures.
10.2 The Regulation and Directive set financial
thresholds applicable to certain categories of cultural goods.
These govern the points at which individual export licences are
10.3 On 14 February, we considered these
amendments proposed by the Commission. Most were uncontentious.
However, they included a proposal that, from 1 January 2002, those
Member States participating in European Monetary Union (EMU) should
apply the thresholds in euros. In his Explanatory Memorandum,
the Minister for the Arts (Mr Alan Howarth MP) pointed to problems
with this proposal for the UK, as the only non-EMU Member State
with an active art market. He said that he would seek agreement
that any new thresholds should be based on the exchange rate of
31 August 2001, to allow time for administrative staff to prepare
for any changes.
10.4 The Minister also drew attention to
the Commission's Decision not to put forward a proposal to update
the financial thresholds in the annexes to the Regulation and
the Directive. This decision would mean that these thresholds,
because of inflation, would continue to go down each year, by
10.5 We asked the Minister to write to us
again after the Advisory Committee had met in early March.
The Minister's letter
10.6 In his letter of 9 March, the Minister
says that, at the meeting, the UK drew attention to the fact that
the proposed amendments would effectively reduce by 20% the financial
thresholds contained in the annexes to the Regulation and Directive.
As it has done before in both this forum and at meetings of the
Cultural Affairs Committee, the UK also raised the need to review
the financial thresholds, at least to update them in line with
inflation. As a result, the Minister says that he is pleased to
report that the European Commission has agreed to consider the
thresholds next year, after the current proposals are in place,
in order to give the UK an opportunity to explain its difficulties
10.7 The Minister comments:
"As you will appreciate,
this is a major advance on the Commission's previous refusal to
put forward proposals on the subject. This is particularly in
view of the fact that most Member States (apart from Germany)
disagree with the UK's position.
"Indeed, many take the view that the thresholds
need to be reduced in order to ensure protection of the cultural
"Article 10 of the Regulation states:
'In any event, the Council,
acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall examine every
three years and, where appropriate, update the amounts indicated
in the Annex, on the basis of economic and monetary indicators
in the Community.'
"This, however, does
not oblige the Commission in any way. Whilst, on the face of it,
there would appear to be a requirement to update the financial
thresholds every three years at least in line with inflation,
our legal advice is that it is the Council who 'shall examine'
but 'acting on a proposal from the Commission.' In other words,
the Commission is not obliged to propose that the Council examine
and update the thresholds. Nor can the Council act without a proposal
from the Commission; and the Commission clearly does not wish
to make a proposal which has so little support.
"Since the current proposals are subject to
qualified majority voting, we could of course vote against them
in Council; but it is clear that we do not have the support to
prevent them being adopted. We will, however, aim to ensure that
the Commission takes forward a review of the financial thresholds
next year with a view to updating them at least for inflation".
10.8 In his Explanatory Memorandum of
31 January, the Minister emphasised the practical problems facing
the United Kingdom and other Member States outside the eurozone
on 1 January 2002, given that the euro/sterling exchange rate
will not be known until 31 December 2001. He makes no mention
of any agreement on solving this problem, but we understand that
Commission officials have recognised that there could be difficulties
and have agreed to give the problem further consideration.
10.9 In the face of a lack of support
from almost all the other Member States, the Government has achieved
only modest success in counteracting the possible detrimental
effects on the United Kingdom art trade of these proposals, which
we now clear.
40 See Articles 28 to 30 of the EC Treaty and the judgment
of the Court of Justice of 10 December 1968, Case C-7/68, Commission
v Italy. Back