This overview demonstrates that initiatives
taken by the EU Member States on art crime policing are uneven and fragmented.
There is a significant gap between northern and southern states. It can be argued
that in general, there is no priority given to art crime. Ludo Block highlighted
this lack of attention from the majority of the EU Member States. After
analysing these two articles, it can be noticed that whilst some countries
tried to focus more on art issues, some others did not change anything. The
situation seems to worsen as some States chose to put aside their art crimes
units by cutting their budget or by dissolving them3.
Therefore, Belgium decided recently to dissolve its “Section ART”. In a similar
vein, the Netherlands disbanded its Unit while it was one of the first
countries to pay attention to art crime. Further, the United Kingdom plans to
close its successful Art and Antiques Unit. Indeed, the future of the London
squad specialised in cultural heritage protection is uncertain and likely to
As a result, there is a significant contrast between Italy, for example, that
counts around 300 officers in its art crime unit, and Finland, which completely
lacks art crime regulation. Moreover, to protect cultural heritage has a cost.
All the countries are not willing to spend such an amount of money for
something they consider as less significant than criminal offences targeting
directly the security of the population. The United Kingdom can again be cited
as an example. In 2017, it was announced that half of the budget dedicated to
the art and Antique Unit would be cut. The UK government, indeed, prefers to use
this budget and police members to deepen the investigations of the Greenfield
Tower fire. It seems that the UK priority given to art crime completely
shifted. To reiterate, the dissolution of the squad is forthcoming. Similarly,
the majority of governments refuse to use their financial resources to fund
stolen art databases5.
Although few initiatives have been taken by
governments, art crimes does not generally involve one but several countries at
the same time. Policing cultural heritage crimes on a national level is not
enough. In general, because they are sold in various licit or illicit markets, art
items move from one country to another. A significant number of enquiries can
be cited as examples to show the transnational effects of art crime. The “Beltracchi” forgery case showed
collaboration between the German and French police forces. In the same vein,
the Dutch, German and French polices worked together to catch Dutch forger Geet
Jan Jansen. Similarly, two Munch’s painting including “the Scream” had been
stolen from a Museum in Oslo. The two paintings could have never been recovered
without the help of the British art crime units. Finally, considered as the
most popular thefts in the European history, the Kunsthal Museum (Rotterdam) theft
can be cited. The damage of the robbery was estimated around 28-160 million of
dollar. The investigation of this significant robbery involved a collaboration
from numerous EU Member States, especially Romania and the Netherlands. Even if
the police collaboration was successful, the ending of the case was undeniably a
disaster for cultural heritage. Indeed, the seven stolen paintings (including
works by Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Gauguin and several other masters) were burned.
Therefore, this is a transnational issue that needs
to be regulated as such. Aware of the cross-border effect of art
investigations, the European Union has tried for several years to deepen and
facilitate the collaboration between the Member States.
1 Ludo Block ‘European Police Cooperation on Art
Crime : A Comparative Overview’ (2011) ; Ludo Block ‘European Police Cooperation on Art Crime :
A Comparative Overview’ (2014)
2 Ludo Block
3 Noah Charney ; Ludo Block.
4 Dr. Derek
Fincham, ‘The Uncertain Future for the Art & Antiques Squad’ (Illicit Cultural Property, 17 August
2017) accessed 9
5 Charney N., Denton P., Kleberg J., ‘Protecting Cultural
Heritage from Art Theft : International Challenge, Local opportunity’.