October saw joint delegations, including the ADA, visit politicians at the European Parliament in Brussels and take part in the Act for Heritage 19 conference on the Nicosia Convention in Cyprus.
The Brussels trip, facilitated by the ADA, was the result of the ADA and IADAA’s intervention following the Financing Terrorism conference hosted by the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament in September. According to the ECR, that event had been prompted by the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank chaired by John Rogers, chief of staff at Goldman Sachs and husband of Deborah Lehr, founder and chairman of the Antiquities Coalition, a non-profit campaigning for heavy regulation of the art market, which provided a key speaker for the event.
The ADA and IADAA reacted after a news report for the Atlantic Council seriously misreported claims over trafficking – claims that despite their acknowledgement of the error they have still not corrected.
The ECR agreed to host a follow-up series of meetings with the ADA and IADAA after they became concerned that delegates had been misled during the earlier event. This led to briefings with MEPs, including the leaders of the ECR, Raffaele Fitto and Jan Zahradil, both of whom pledged to address art market concerns with the help of the ADA and IADAA and encouraged us to engage with other political groupings within the European Parliament to garner cross-party interest for the concerns we have over policy and legislation. More plans are afoot for further events to raise awareness over trade concerns and how they can be met.
The ADA joined IADAA and CINOA, the global trade federation of art and antiques dealers, at the Act for Heritage 19 conference organised by the Council of Europe in Nicosia from October 24-26. The chief aim of the conference was to review progress and encourage more signatories to ratify the Nicosia Convention.
Objectives of the convention in tackling trafficking
The main objectives of the convention are to prevent destruction and looting of cultural property and harmonise anti-trafficking legislation at national level across EU member states, as well as other countries, and to introduce punitive measures for intentional infringement of the law.
The conference included around 100 delegates, from the Council of Europe, law enforcement, the World Customs Organisations, UNESCO, UNIDROIT, NGOs and academics.
CINOA was invited but had to argue for more than one representative of the trade. CINOA initially was only allowed to address the conference during a break-out group. CINOA Secretary-General Erika Bochereau protested that the trade should be heard in the main event and eventually won a ten-minute speaking slot. Although this was the only slot promoting the trade’s view of the challenges presented by trafficking and how to tackle them, it had a significant impact because it was the only presentation that differed from all the others, which together created a homogenous whole without offering realistic solutions or providing any new evidence for their arguments. The CINOA Background paper for this conference was Fact, fiction and the role of the trade in protecting cultural heritage.
The art market delegates spent a great deal of time reinforcing the message that while anti-trade campaigners vigorously championed the moral rights of nations to reclaim their cultural heritage, in doing so they ignored the equally important moral rights of people to enjoy their personal property without having it taken away from them without good reason. Striking a balance between these competing interests is the challenge at the heart of the ongoing debate.
What was marked about the event, however, was the noticeable increase in calls from a number of speakers to involve the market in future deliberations – even if the current attitude seems to be that engagement will be on the basis of the market explaining how it will meet the Council of Europe’s demands.
One-to-one discussions outside the hall led to some constructive dialogue, not least from UNESCO, whose chief delegate now appears very keen to work with the market.
Although the Convention only needs three more countries to ratify it for it to come into force (for those who ratified it), it was significant that none of the major art market countries were officially represented at the conference, an indication that they do not support it. The ADA, IADAA and CINOA made a number of significant contacts at the event, including the Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation, and will be following up on these contacts.