Artworks deal brushed aside again

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Series Details Vol.4, No.22, 4.6.98, p8
Publication Date 04/06/1998
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Date: 04/06/1998

By Myles Neligan

A LONG-standing European Commission proposal designed to create a single EU market for works of art is unlikely to be agreed before next year, even though all but four member states support the plan and MEPs endorsed it more than a year ago.

The two-year-old proposal would oblige all EU governments to impose a levy of up to 4% on the sale price of new artworks to generate extra revenues for artists. The Commission claims this is necessary to eliminate the unfair advantage enjoyed by those Union countries which do not already do so.

But the measure has been seriously delayed because its passage through the legislative process has coincided with the EU presidencies of the UK and Austria which, together with Ireland and the Netherlands, are opposed to the move.

These four are the only EU member states currently not levying a surcharge on behalf of struggling artists. "The government in the chair often sidelines unpopular but non-urgent proposals during preparatory meetings between officials. This was certainly the case during the UK presidency and everyone expects the Austrian presidency to do the same," commented one diplomat.

Most observers expect that the proposal will not be discussed by EU single market ministers until after Germany assumes control of Union business in January next year.

However, the four countries opposed to the measure fear that little can be done to prevent it from being approved when it is finally discussed. It only needs the support of a qualified majority of member states to become law and the quartet do not command enough votes between them to block it.

Resistance is strongest in the UK, with officials and art dealers in London warning that the move would destroy the booming British art market, which generated revenues estimated at 3.3 billion ecu in 1996.

They argue that the introduction of the proposed surcharge would scare off the numerous international buyers and investors who have boosted sales in recent years. "This proposal is like a medieval map in that it assumes the world beyond the frontiers of the EU does not exist. If it goes through, we may get a level playing-field in Europe, but the world art market will simply shift to New York," said Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation.

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