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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 19:43 GMT
EU art levy blocked
The UK says only rich heirs to artists such as Picasso would gain


A European attempt to levy royalties on art works, which the UK Government argued would cost thousands of jobs, has been blocked.

The European Union scheme would have ensured that artists recieved a royalty of up to 4% every time one of their works was sold anywhere in the EU.

The UK Government opposed the scheme, as it feared it could damage the British art market - by far the biggest in Europe.

It said the levy would cost up to 8,500 art industry jobs, with trade being diverted to the US and Switzerland to avoid the levy.

Six member states - Britain, Denmark, Holland, Austria, Ireland and Luxembourg - formed a large enough minority to keep a deal at bay in Brussels.

The matter will now be discussed at the EU summit in Helsinki at the weekend, with EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels next week to consider new plans to reach a deal.

Figures disputed

Only four EU member states - Britain, Ireland, Austria and Holland - do not already guarantee royalties on art works.

The UK Government estimates that royalty payouts and lost trade would reduce the value of the UK's art market from 3.2bn to 2.5bn a year.

The benefits, the government insists, would be felt only by a tiny number of already wealthy artists' families, such as Picasso's heirs.

But the figures are hotly disputed by the European Commission, which says the sliding scale of royalty payments will provide new income for about 250,000 artists.

Under its proposed Resale Rights Directive, royalties on artworks would range from 4% on sales worth up to 32,000, to just 0.25% on the portion of the sale price of a work that exceeds 320,000.

The royalties would flow during the artist's life and, after his or her death, to the heirs for 70 years.

The Commission says the benefit would go largely to 20th Century art, which accounts for only 10% of the turnover of the main auction houses in London.

The impact on employment would therefore be "minimal", said internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  Business
Grim picture for arts market
13 May 99 |  The Economy
Artful EU decisions
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