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 Full text 
Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - Strasbourg Revised edition

Import of cultural goods (debate)

  Daniel Dalton, Rapporteur. – Mr President, we’ve had some tough negotiations over the last few months, thatʼs fair to say, and the text weʼre voting on tomorrow is not perfect. But our discussion showed that we all share the same goal: workable legislation that targets the illicit importing of cultural goods for terrorist financing without overburdening customs authorities or small businesses.

For that reason – unlike the Commission – we recognise the need for value thresholds on most items. We already have value thresholds in the export regulation. For imports, clearly, higher-value items are of greater interest for terrorist financing. So for the Commission not to follow that precedent and to have no value thresholds on a regulation that applies to the whole world – low- as well as high-risk areas – made little sense. Customs authorities are already overwhelmed and unable to check most imports. So to work, this regulation needs to focus on higher-value, higher-risk goods. That is how we deal with customs issues throughout our legislation: risk-based, intelligence-led checks.

This proposal – let’s not forget – was originally drawn up in light of Isis’s control of large areas of Syria and the potential for them to traffic antiquities to fund their activities. Global strife, however, constantly evolves, so our work here needs to be better than just press-release politics, and legislation needs to be fit for changing risks. Importantly, in the Parliament text we also recognise that there are legitimate movements of goods for museums and art fairs that we shouldn’t in any way hinder. Creating long delays to imports would have simply moved these fairs outside Europe, where there is often less oversight.

In the Parliament we agreed from the start on a digital-led approach. Cultural objects cross borders repeatedly, so information needs to be exchanged to allow previously-vetted goods to circulate freely. A fully-electronic system is therefore critical and, given these rules will not be applied until the early 2020s, continuing with a paper system, I think, would look ridiculous.

We also recognise that small businesses will need help in complying with this regulation. Many cultural goods, such as sub-genres of books or types of antiquities, are sold by highly-specialised companies, so micro- and family businesses are at the heart of the trade. The scope is fundamental to the potential burden of this regulation, but we have also proposed targeted measures to further help small companies meet the demands on them. Cooperation with third countries will also be vital to tackling illicit trade.

So I strongly support the provisions we introduced in this regulation to bolster efforts being made to improve the capacities of countries that are struggling to preserve their cultural heritage. By complementing those efforts with sensible import rules, we can act to resolve the whole supply chain for illicit goods rather than just isolating Europe from a global problem.

As I said at the start, although we’ve made significant improvements, this text is not perfect. For example, there is still some potential difficulty in cases where provenance is hard to determine – of which there will be many when dealing with ancient artefacts. This is particularly the case for low—value archaeological items, which fall under the scope of the final text, regardless of whether they are from high- or low-risk areas. It should be possible to import items which have been held legitimately for decades without the cooperation of source countries which lack documentation to judge the original export’s legitimacy. Otherwise, we risk overburdening customs authorities and importers with an unachievable proof requirement that could clog up the system and fail to deliver on the regulation’s aims.

I am optimistic, though, that, through constructive negotiations with the Council, using their first—hand knowledge of customs operations, we can streamline this proposal and emerge with a final law fit for purpose. We want to avoid a ʻfortress Europeʼ approach and unworkable requirements that might prevent the profiteering of Isis but also devastate the responsible family businesses that make up the vast majority of the trade in Europe.

If I can just make one point in response to Ms Mosca’s points: for the UK this is a classic case in point. If these rules are too overburdening for European producers and the UK is outside that market, I can guarantee you that the trade will move to the UK, and no one in Europe or the UK will be thankful for that. I won’t. I want to see us working closely together, and this text is absolutely vital to make sure we get this right in order to do it.

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