EU countries failing to protect cultural heritage

One of the Parthenon horses, currently housed in London. New EU legislation is intended to prevent the removal of culturally significant items like these ancient marbles. [Jun/Flickr]

The European Commission has given eight EU countries just two months to incorporate into national law new rules on returning cultural items illegally taken from other member states. Failure to comply will mean the beginning of legal action. EURACTIV Spain reports.

The Commission has indicated that it has issued reasoned opinions, the second stage in an open infringement procedure, against Spain, Cyprus, Finland, France, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Romania, on their failure to transpose European law on the restitution of cultural items that have been unlawfully removed from another EU country.

“The illegal traffic of cultural objects is a problem that affects every EU country,” said the executive in a statement, which explained that the new directive, a recast of the 1993 original, aims to reconcile the principal of the free movement of goods with protecting national heritage. The original was drawn up as a result of the creation of the single market, which meant member states were powerless to prevent items being moved across internal borders.

It will be easier for EU countries to address the issue of cultural items being illegally taken from their country of origin and to claim back national treasures that are important to their national identity.

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The directive should have been transposed into national law by 19 December 2015, but the eight countries in question have still not complied with their obligations.

As a result, Spain and the other seven have two months to notify the Commission that the legislation has been fully transposed or the executive will be entitled to report them to the European Court of Justice.

Cultural items have long been at the centre of fierce debates between member states, with notable examples being the Elgin Marbles, currently housed in the British Museum but claimed by Greece, and the Mona Lisa, which Italy has sometimes asked to be returned, given that it was painted by one of its most famous figures, Leonardo Da Vinci.

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