Germany Ratifies Controversial Cultural Heritage Legislation

Experts have warned of the law's negative impact on the German market.

The Bundesrat, the German parliament’s upper house, ratified the country’s revised cultural heritage protection legislation today, two weeks after the Bundestag, the lower house, passed the law, Der Spiegel reported.

An 11th hour effort to stop the hugely unpopular measures fell flat as warnings of high implementation costs by the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, and Lower Saxony, as well as an open letter from 11 retired museum directors to the chamber of states—a body consisting of the minister presidents of each of Germany’s 16 federal states and which has the power to stop the law—weren’t heeded.

The changes to the law stipulate that dealers and collectors must obtain state approval to export artworks older than 50 years and valued over €150,000 ($170,000) outside of the EU. For exports within the EU a permit is required for works over 75 years old with a value of over €300,000 ($340,000).

State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. High on the meeting's agenda was discussion of the German military's presence abroad. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.

State Minister Monika Grütters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.

Players from all sectors of Germany’s art scene collectively warned of the potential damage the controversial law will cause to Germany’s cultural sector because of excessive bureaucracy, high implementation costs, and the failure to sufficiently define what constitutes “nationally important cultural goods.”

Additionally, several important collectors, including software billionaire Hasso Plattner, and artists Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter have threatened to remove long-term loans from public institutions in protest against the measures.

Georg Baselitz has withdrawn his works from German museums in light of the planned tightening of the cultural protection law. Photo: Arno Burgi via AFP/Getty Images

Georg Baselitz was one of several vocal critics against the law. Photo: ARNO BURGI/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the criticism, Germany’s Culture Minister Monika Grütters, who initiated the bill, defended her stance. “With the new cultural protection legislation Germany finally recognizes—albeit after decades of delay—international and European standards which already exist in almost all European countries,” she said during the law’s final reading two weeks ago. She also maintained it was crucial to take steps to close existing loopholes in the trade of looted antiquities.

Germany’s culture sector however has taken a markedly different stance. “The art market in Germany is completely underrepresented when one observes the economic and cultural potency of the country,” Kilian Jay von Seldeneck, director of the German auction house Lempertz, told artnet News last year. “But the political framework is catastrophic.”

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