Select Committee on European Scrutiny Ninth Report


COM(00) 845

COM(00) 844

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
Member State.

Legal base: (a) Article 133 EC; qualified majority voting
(b) Article 95 EC; qualified majority voting
Department: 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: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  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.[40]

  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 required.

  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 default.

  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 in detail.

  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 patrimony.

    "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 ItalyBack

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