International And EU Measures For The Protection Of Cultural Heritage: Towards Broader Use Of Tax Breaks To Stimulate Private Engagements


This article discusses international and EU regimes providing incentives to finance cultural undertakings. It attempts to identify the scope of the concept of "cultural heritage", which today embraces a wide range of expressions of human creativity and produces significant turnover. The author demonstrates that the current forms of public funding are insufficient to ensure adequate protection of cultural heritage and, due to inputs coming from EU institutions, the need to adopt tax breaks to stimulate funding from the private sector has become critical in recent years.

  1. The Global Importance of Cultural Heritage and the Need for Universal Protection

    The close link between cultural heritage and legal instruments protecting heritage is quite ancient, with the result that heritage protection is currently recognized in most national constitutions.1 Supranational initiatives in this field are, however, relatively new and reflect the growing global importance of the matter.2 There are numerous early examples of efforts to protect cultural heritage in a narrow sense, which focused only on material objects of an historical-artistic nature. This ultimately led, decades later, to a wider concept of heritage, in particular in the context of globalization.

    On early example is the "Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives" (MFAA) group, comprising about 350 individuals from 13 different countries - known later as the "Monuments Men" - who, despite not having any specific military training,3 engaged in an operation in Europe during World War II, along with the Allied armies, to recover and preserve artistic masterpieces that were vulnerable to the destructive forces of war, efforts that included stealing such works from the retreating Nazis. Although the MFAA operated informally for about a year, it was only in 1943 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented a request by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Harlan F. Stone, to give it a formal role aimed at the "protection and conservation of works of art and of artistic and historic monuments and records in Europe".

    As the territories were being freed from totalitarian regimes in Italy (starting on 8 September 1943) and in occupied France (starting from D-Day, i.e. 6 June 1944), the MFAA carried out, as quickly and effectively as possible, its mission to rescue cultural heritage, recovering "movable" works of art (or carrying out investigations involving priests, museum directors, etc. in order to obtain information on where the Axis armies had likely hidden them). It also put up the infamous "off limits" signs on "immovable" objects with historical-artistic value (for example, churches, monasteries, convents, museums, libraries, etc.), to prevent them from being damaged or destroyed by the Allies.4

    It was precisely this dramatic period that raised awareness of the need to preserve humanity's treasures, the value of which is universal and timeless, from destructive (but contingent) conflict between nations.

    Following the end of hostilities, the international community decided to develop a multilateral treaty to attempt to protect cultural goods in the event of future wars. Thus, in 1954, the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was concluded in The Hague, pursuant to which the contracting states acknowledged that "cultural property has suffered grave damage during recent armed conflicts and that, by reason of the developments in the technique of warfare, it is in increasing danger of destruction". They were convinced that "damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world".5 The Hague Convention is the first source of international law containing a...

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