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#SecurityUnion: Cracking down on the illegal import of cultural goods used to finance terrorism

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The European Commission has today (13 July) put forward new rules to clamp down on the illegal import and trafficking of cultural goods from outside the EU, often linked to terrorist financing and other criminal activity.

Today's proposal marks one of the final steps set out in the Commission's action plan to strengthen the fight against terrorism financing. It will stop this traffic in its tracks by banning the import into the EU of cultural goods exported illegally from their home countries. It comes just days after the Hamburg G20 called on countries to tackle terrorist finance, including the looting and smuggling of antiquities.

Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said: "Money is oxygen to terrorist organisations such as Daesh. We are taking action to cut off each of their sources of financing. This includes the trade of cultural goods, as terrorists derive funding from the looting of archaeological sites and the illegal sale of cultural objects. By preventing them from entering the EU, we can help dry up this source of income."

Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Commisioner Pierre Moscovici said: "The illegal trafficking of cultural goods is an issue of grave concern. Such activity can wreak serious damage on the cultural heritage of those countries that can least afford to protect their interests. Today's proposal equips customs authorities with the right tools to ensure the EU market is closed for such goods."

Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Commissioner Tibor Navracsics said: “The looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods deprives citizens of affected countries of a part of their cultural identity and destroys the cultural heritage of humankind. Today we are demonstrating the Commission's commitment to protecting this global heritage, which we will showcase during the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage."

At the moment, the EU applies prohibitions on goods from Iraq and Syria but there is no general EU framework for the import of cultural goods. Current rules can be exploited by unscrupulous exporters and importers who can use the profits to fund illegal activities such as terrorism. Diverging and ineffective existing national legislation in this area means that EU action is necessary to ensure consistent treatment of imports of cultural goods all along the EU's external borders. This will help prevent illicit cultural goods being brought into the EU, directly weakening the cultural, historical and archaeological life of the country of origin.

Plans for the new measures were first set out as part of the Commission's European Agenda on Security and its 2016 action plan to strengthen the fight against the financing of terrorism. In February 2016, member states recalled the importance of urgently enhancing the fight against the illicit trade in cultural goods and asked the Commission to propose legislative measures on this matter as soon as possible. The new rules foresee a number of actions which should ensure that the importation of illicit cultural goods becomes much more difficult in the future:

- A new common EU definition for 'cultural goods' at importation which covers a broad range of objects including archaeological finds, ancient scrolls, the remains of historical monuments, artwork, collections and antiques. The new rules will apply only to cultural goods that have been shown to be most at risk, i.e. those at least 250 years old at the moment of importation.
- The introduction of a new licensing system for the import of archaeological objects, parts of monuments and ancient manuscripts and books. Importers will have to obtain import licences from the competent authorities in the EU before bringing such goods into the EU.
- For other categories of cultural goods, importers will now have to go through a more rigorous certification system by submitting a signed statement or affidavit as proof that the goods have been exported legally from the third country.
- Customs authorities will also have the power to seize and retain goods when it cannot be demonstrated that the cultural goods in question have been legally exported. Awareness campaigns targeting buyers of cultural goods, such as professional art market importers but also buyers of cultural goods in Europe are envisaged.

In parallel, training sessions for customs officers and other law enforcement services will be organised by member states in order to improve their ability to recognize suspicious shipments and to co-operate more efficiently in preventing illicit trade. EU member states will be obliged to ensure that effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties are in place for those who do not follow the rules, in particular for anyone who makes false statements or submits false information.

Background

A string of crimes against our common cultural heritage have been perpetrated by warring factions and terrorist entities all over the world. Recent reports have also shown that valuable artworks, sculptures and archaeological artefacts are being sold and imported into the EU from certain non-EU countries, with those profits potentially used to finance terrorist activities. When it comes to the importation and movement of art and antiques, member states currently apply the general customs legislation or Union Customs Code.

Specific legislation also applies to cultural goods arriving from Iraq and Syria. In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that these rules are not sufficient in fighting illicit trafficking of cultural goods. In July 2017, the G20 called for countries to 'address all alternative sources of financing of terrorism, including… looting and smuggling of antiquities'. Similarly, the G7 has called for action on these activities in third countries.

The importance of protecting cultural heritage will be highlighted in 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage, with a series of activities taking place at all levels: European, national, regional and local. The aim is also to showcase the importance of cultural heritage and to promote innovative and engaging ways to preserve it for future generations. The authentic global art and antiques market is estimated at €56 billion of sales in 2016, of which the total value of the European market is around €19bn.

Next steps

The proposal for a Regulation will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The Commission hopes that this will be swiftly adopted in the codecision process.

coronavirus

Biden G7 and NATO to-do list: Unite allies, fight autocracy, attack COVID-19

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President Joe Biden’s meeting with leaders of the G7 leading industrial economies in an English seaside village this week will usher in a new focus on rallying US allies against common adversaries - the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia and China, Reuters.

New COVID-19 variants and rising death tolls in some countries will loom large during the gathering from Friday to Sunday (11-13 June), alongside climate change, strengthening global supply chains and ensuring the West maintains its technological edge over China, the world's second-largest economy.

Biden, a Democrat, vowed to rebuild relations with allies after four rocky years under former President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of several multilateral institutions and threatened at one point to quit NATO.

"In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners," Biden wrote in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on Saturday.

The gathering will put Biden's "America is back" motto to the test, with allies disillusioned during the Trump years looking for tangible, lasting action.

It is a pivotal moment for the United States and the world, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on CNN on Sunday.

"Is international cooperation going to be restored or are we still in this world where nationalism, protectionism and to some extent isolationism are dominating?" Brown asked.

Russia will be at the forefront of attention at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, and the days afterward when Biden meets with European leaders and NATO allies in Brussels, before heading to Geneva to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The recent ransomware attack on JBS (JBSS3.SA), the world’s largest meatpacker, by a criminal group likely based in Russia, and Putin’s financial backing for Belarus after it forced a Ryanair (RYA.I) flight to land so it could arrest a dissident journalist on board, are pushing U.S. officials to consider sharper action.

On the sidelines of the NATO summit, Biden is also expected to meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a crucial session between the sparring NATO allies after Ankara's purchase of Russian defense systems angered Washington and risked driving a wedge within the alliance.

G7 finance ministers reached a landmark global deal on Saturday (5 June to set a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15%, potentially hitting giant tech companies like Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN.O) Biden and his counterparts will give the deal their final blessing in Cornwall. The Biden administration, which on Thursday (3 June) detailed its plans to donate 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of June, is leaning heavily on allies to follow suit as the global pandemic death toll approaches 4 million, US and diplomatic sources say.

Washington reversed course last month and backed negotiations over waivers for intellectual property protections at the World Trade Organization to speed vaccine production in developing countries, much to the chagrin of Germany and Britain.

European diplomats say they see little common ground on the issue, and argue that any WTO compromise would take months to finalize and implement. That may prove a moot point if sufficient vaccine doses are shared with developing countries to slow - and eventually halt - the pandemic.

Biden announced plans in May to require U.S. government contractors and financial institutions to be more transparent about the climate change risks faced by their investments, and administration officials are pushing other countries to adopt similar plans.

The UK also wants governments to require businesses to report such risks as a way to boost investment in green projects. But agreement on a way forward is unlikely to come in June. A deal could emerge at a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

G7 countries also have different views on carbon pricing, which the International Monetary Fund views as a key way to curb carbon dioxide emissions and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Biden administration will urge allies to unite against China over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang province, home to the Muslim Uighur minority, even as it seeks to maintain Beijing as an ally in the climate change fight.

Sources following the discussions say they expect G7 leaders to adopt strong language on the forced labor issue. China denies all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.

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Crime

Security Union: EU rules on removing terrorist content online enter into force

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Landmark EU rules on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online entered into force on 7 June. Platforms will have to remove terrorist content referred by member states' authorities within one hour. The rules will also help to counter the spread of extremist ideologies online - a vital part of preventing attacks and addressing radicalization. The rules include strong safeguards to ensure the full respect of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and information. The Regulation will also set transparency obligations for online platforms and for national authorities to report on the amount of terrorist content removed, the measures used to identify and remove content, the outcomes of complaints and appeals, as well as the number and type of penalties imposed on online platforms.

Member States will be able to sanction non-compliance and to decide on the level of penalties, which will be proportionate to the nature of the infringement. The size of the platform will also be taken into consideration, so as to not impose unduly high penalties relative to the platform's size. Member states and online platforms offering services in the EU now have one year to adapt their processes.

The Regulation applies as of 7 June 2022. Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas, said: “With these landmark new rules, we are cracking down on the proliferation of terrorist content online and making the EU's Security Union a reality. From now on, online platforms will have one hour to get terrorist content off the web, ensuring attacks like the one in Christchurch cannot be used to pollute screens and minds. This is a huge milestone in Europe's counter-terrorism and anti-radicalization response.”

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: "Taking down terrorist content immediately is crucial to stop terrorists from exploiting the Internet to recruit and encourage attacks and to glorify their crimes. It is equally crucial to protect victims and their families from being confronted with crimes a second time online. The Regulation sets clear rules and responsibilities for member states and for online platforms, protecting freedom of speech where warranted."

This factsheet provides further information on the new rules. The rules are an essential part of the Commission's Counter-Terrorism Agenda.

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Crime

Customs Union: EU steps up its rules on cash controls to fight money laundering and terrorist financing

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New rules came into force on 3 June, which will improve the EU's system of controls of cash entering and leaving the EU. As part of the EU's efforts to tackle money laundering and to cut off sources of terrorist financing, all travellers entering or leaving EU territory are already obliged to complete a cash declaration when carrying €10,000 or more in currency, or its equivalent in other currencies, or other means of payment, such as travellers' cheques, promissory notes, etc.

As of 3 June, however, a number of changes will be implemented that will further tighten the rules and make it even more difficult to move large amounts of undetected cash. First, the definition of ‘cash' under the new rules will be extended and will now cover gold coins and certain other gold items. Second, customs authorities will be able to act on amounts lower than €10,000 when there are indications that cash is linked to criminal activity. Finally, customs authorities may also now request that a cash disclosure declaration be lodged when they detect €10,000 or more in cash being sent unaccompanied via post, freight or courier.

The new rules will also ensure that the competent authorities and national Financial Intelligence Unit in each member state have the information they need to track and tackle movements of cash that could be used to fund illegal activity. The implementation of the updated rules mean that the latest developments in the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) international standards on combating money laundering and terrorism financing are reflected in EU legislation. Full details and a factsheet on the new system are available here.

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