New Draft Act to Protect Cultural Property published

Following the first round of inter-ministerial consultations, the revised draft bill amending the Act to Protect German Cultural Property was published today on the internet. Professor Monika Grütters, Minister of State for Culture, said: “With this important legislative proposal, Germany takes responsibility for our shared cultural heritage, both national and international. We intend to keep illegally excavated artefacts, such as those sold by the so-called Islamic State to finance its terrorist regime, from being imported to Germany and unlawfully bought and sold here. In view of the barbaric destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East and many other areas of crisis and civil war, this move was long overdue, demanded by ethics and morals and by our identity as a nation of culture.”

“The new law is also urgently needed to protect our own national cultural heritage,” Minister Prof. Grütters added. “Germany as a nation of culture must continue to be able to protect valuable cultural property of outstanding significance for the nation. This rule, established in 1955 and confirmed by the highest Federal Administrative Court has been implemented in good practice with broad consensus. Precisely because it only affects a few particular cases, this practice should continue, with some necessary fine-tuning and procedural improvements. When we talk about protecting nationally valuable cultural property, we are talking about laws that have applied for more than 60 years and are widely accepted. Experts including museum personnel, art dealers and collectors will continue to decide case by case what qualifies as being of national importance.”

Germany’s constitution explicitly provides for “safeguarding German cultural assets against removal from the country” (Article 73) and gives the Federal level exclusive legislative power to do so. Prof. Grütters said: “Ultimately, there are very few unique works that are crucial for the cultural identity of our nation and that qualify as being of national importance, and thus a tiny fraction of the total artistic and cultural heritage in Germany.”

More information about the draft legislation

An object may be classified as being of national importance only after an expert body, comprised of collectors and representatives of museums, the research community, and the art trade, agrees that the object is of national importance. Art works by living artists may be registered as being of national importance only with the approval of the artist. The new legislation does not make stricter conditions for proceedings in comparison with the current law; it only formulates them more precisely.

Under the new legislation, a permit will be required to export especially valuable, older cultural property and archaeological objects to other member states of the European Union. Since 1993, EU law has required permits to export relevant cultural property outside the EU, for example to the major art markets in Switzerland and the U.S. This requirement applies for example to paintings older than 50 years and valued at more than €150,000. Under the new law, Germany – like almost all other EU Member States – will also require a national export permit for artworks headed for other destinations within the EU single market, such as London. However, the German law sets more generous terms: For example, the export permit requirement will only apply to paintings older than 70 years and valued at more than €300,000. As under the current legislation, this means that no contemporary art will be affected. Nor will a living artist need an export permit to move his or her own artworks out of the country.

Export permits will be issued quickly as long as there is no indication that the item could be of national importance and as long as there is no suspicion that it was bought or sold illegally. The German federal states (Länder) will be responsible for issuing export permits and will continue to do so within a few days in almost every case, as they have over the past 23 years, since this EU requirement was introduced for the non-EU market. To simplify loan procedures for public and private museums, one-time permits will be issued to cover multiple objects.

The new legislation is intended to close current loopholes in Germany’s protection of movable cultural property. Its text is more precisely formulated to make matters clearer, and it contains revisions made during the process of inter-ministerial coordination and following many discussions with the relevant stakeholders, especially the private-sector and the art market.

In its report on the protection of cultural property presented to the German parliament (Bundestag) and the Federal Assembly (Bundesrat) in April 2013, the Federal Government recommended amending the existing law. In their Coalition Agreement, the governing parties CDU/CSU and SPD expressed their intention to amend the Act to Protect German Cultural Property in order to improve the protection of cultural property, take more effective action against the illegal trafficking in cultural property and help keeping objects of national importance from being taken out of the country. The amendment was also intensively discussed in a joint working group, and the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the German federal states approved the outline of the amended legislation in October 2014.

The second round of inter-ministerial consultations also began today. The federal states (Länder), national associations of local authorities, expert groups and associations as well as the art market also have an opportunity to comment on the draft legislation by 7 October.
After that date, the Federal Cabinet will take up and adopt the new legislation. If it is then passed by the Parliament, the new law will enter into force in 2016.

The text of the draft legislation is available at