European Union and UNESCO

The European Union actively supports the protection of cultural property and the fight against its illicit trafficking, in close collaboration with UNESCO and other international partners. It considers this domain to be one of its priority areas.

Inter-regional and crosscutting action aiming to strengthen the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property

This new initiative complements the two other previously undertaken EU-UNESCO projects (see below) by broadening their geographical scope from the EU Member States to Western Balkans and European Neighborhood Instrument South Partner countries and by targeting a wider range of key professional groups such as:

•    Museum and cultural heritage professionals;
•    Professionals from the banking sector, private investment funds and insurance companies;
•    Art market professionals;
•    Judiciary and law enforcement officials
•    State civil servants working for relevant Ministries;
•    General public and local populations.
Thanks to its crosscutting approach, the new inter-regional action will include:

•    Regional and sub-regional knowledge sharing meetings ;
•    Training workshops ;
•    Peer-to-peer pilot actions ;
•    Documentation and ressources center;
•    Communication and awareness-raising campaign.

The overall objective of the initiative is to reduce the illicit trafficking of cultural property in the EU and beyond by reinforcing the skills of key professionals and by stimulating new synergies between source, transit and destination countries.

Training the European judiciary and law enforcement on the fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property

The aim of this joint UNESCO / European Union (EU) initiative is to raise awareness of the European judiciary and law enforcement officials on the existing international legal framework and practical tools to fight the illicit trafficking of cultural property. By doing so, it also reinforces the capacity of European countries to protect cultural heritage within and beyond its borders in a more efficient way.

The project  provides magistrates, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police officials and customs agents with a Toolkit produced both in hard copy and through e-learning modules.

In addition, the first training workshop bringing together nearly 60 European judicial and law enforcement officials and about 30 experts in the fight against illegal trafficking of cultural property took place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 26 to 28 November 2018.


Engaging the European Art Market in the Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

The purpose of the project “Engaging the European art market in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property” is to strengthen the capacities of European art market stakeholders in their application of due diligence when dealing with cultural objects. This joint initiative from UNESCO and the European Commission aims at sensitizing public and private art market actors from European Union (EU) Member States to the necessity of protecting cultural heritage and to the implications of the illicit trade regarding terrorism financing, organized crime, and money laundering.

In this context, the capacity-building conference on 20-21 March 2018 at UNESCO Headquarters will bring together representatives from EU Member States’ governments, regional interest groups, and professionals who will all receive training by experts and representatives from UNESCO and its institutional partners in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property over the course of the two-day conference.


Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage

The overall objective of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage project is to contribute to restoring social cohesion, stability and sustainable development through the protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage. In view of the growing destruction and loss of cultural heritage that reach the international community day after day, the project is a first step to monitor the on-going destruction and loss of cultural heritage, mitigate its destruction and loss, and prepare the post-conflict priority actions, as well as the medium and long term actions, as a means to restore normalcy and social cohesion.

Officially launched on 1 March 2014 for a period of three years, this collaboration aims at halting the on-going loss of cultural heritage and prepare post-conflict priority actions. 


International expert group against illicit trafficking

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture is working towards the establishment of an expert group on the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.

On 18 October 2013, the European Commission organized a brainstorming meeting with key strategic partners, including UNESCO. The conclusions of this meeting were later presented by the European Commission to the Council Working Group on Culture. The Member States agreed to the proposal of the European Commission i.e. to abide by the conclusions with regard to the code of ethics, and to develop the guidelines once Directive 93/7 has been adopted in the framework of the discussions to be conducted under the preparation of the new Work Plan for Culture (WP).

Africa-EU Workshop on the fight Against Illegal Trafficking of Cultural Goods

In January 2014, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy Support Mechanism (JAES), with the support of the European Commission’s Directorate General Development and Cooperation, organised in Casablanca, Morocco, a pan-African Workshop on the protection of cultural goods against plunder, theft and illicit trafficking.

Based on practical cases, discussions contributed to sensitize stakeholders and experts on the relevance of the protection of cultural goods against plundering, theft and illicit trafficking within a perspective of stability, security and sustainable development. The conclusions of the meeting (see PDF document) provided a clear message and operational recommendations intended to help decision-makers with the implementation of policies for the protection of cultural goods policies. Experts agreed that the fight against this illegal trade must be reinforced and diversified at the international level. Africa and the EU should lead the efforts as a majority of stolen African cultural artefacts are either transiting through Europe or destined for the internal market.

More information on the Africa-EU Partnership

The meeting brought together over 80 experts representing African and European governments, African regional organizations, the African Union Commission, the European Commission but also international organizations, including UNESCO.


EU CULTNET aims at strengthening coordination between law enforcement and cultural authorities and private organizations (e.g. antique shops, auction houses, online auctions), by identifying and sharing, in compliance with data protection rules, information on criminal networks suspected of being involved in illicit trafficking of stolen cultural goods, in order to determine the links between such networks and other forms of (organized) crime and to identify routes, destinations, modus operandi and types of criminal activities, in close cooperation with relevant international organizations, such as UNESCO, Interpol, Eurojust and Europol.

The first meeting of EU CULTNET, an informal network of law enforcement authorities and experts competent in the domain of preventing and combatting crime against cultural goods, was held in Larnaka, Cyprus, on 30 May 2013.

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