European Union

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European Commission
B-1049 Brussels


In the European Union, the circulation of cultural goods is governed by the provisions of the Treaty of Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and in particular Articles 34 and 35 relating to the free movement of goods. Article 36 of the Treaty allows Member States to justify certain restrictions on trade for reasons of protection of national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value.

The Treaty establishes a EU-competence in cultural matters to adopt measures designed to encourage cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, to support their action in the conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance (Article 167 TFEU). Link.

Furthermore, the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods was also the subject of attention in expert groups created within the consecutive work programs of the European Agenda for Culture, adopted by the Council in 2007.

In particular, the Expert Working Group on the Mobility of Collections worked in 2010 to share best practices on the improvement of the circulation of works of art, including, for example, means to simplify the process of lending and borrowing of cultural property (for further details, see the Final Report of the Working Group).

Concerning the fight against transnational organized crime, in the light of Article 83 TFUE the Union does not have explicit competence to establish minimum rules on illicit trafficking in cultural property. It may nevertheless support and facilitate the efforts of Member States to prevent and fight against this important form of organized crime with a cross-border dimension on the basis of Articles 84 and 85 TFEU. For further details, please see at the following links: link 1 and link 2.

Eurojust (Judicial Cooperation Unit of the European Union), Europol (European Police Office) and CEPOL (European Police College) may contribute to the coordination of investigations, criminal prosecutions and the exchange of information between Member States. Link.

In 2011 Directorate-General Home Affairs commissioned a study on preventing and fighting illicit trafficking in cultural goods in the European Union, which was conducted by the French Research Centre for International Legal Cooperation (CECOJI).

The European Commission financially supports innovative projects that promote the prevention and fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property: Link.