Amendment to Restitution Law to be Adopted Before Summer

Austrian Federal Chancellery

Minister of Culture Claudia Schmied and Chairman of the Advisory Board on Restitution Clemens Jabloner presented the measures planned by the Federal Republic on March 26, 2008 to improve restitution. “Restitution of seized assets is an historic obligation which is being met by the Republic of Austria,” stated the Minister. “My aim is to establish clear policy rules regarding restitution by the Leopold Foundation.“ As a first step, provenance research has to be conducted by the Federal Republic. By the end of April, two restitution researchers, financed by the Federal Republic, are to start investigations of the Leopold Museum. There is “already a clear majority by the Managing Board in favor of this opening up”, said Schmied, who also interpreted statements by art collector Rudolf Leopold as a “highly positive and constructive signal.“ In an interview with the daily newspaper, “Die Presse,“ the head of the museum stated: “We will have independent experts examine the facts. I will certainly not ignore the origin of paintings against my better judgment.” However, in this interview Leopold also explained that he felt to be the target of unfair criticism.
The plan of action presented by Schmied and Jabloner included concrete measures. For example, the law should not refer explicitly to the restitution of “works of art” but rather to the restitution of “movable objects”. The future law should not only apply to “federal museums and collections” but entire “federal assets“ should come under its scope. The Act on the Restitution of Works of Art should also cover assets which had previously been subject to a formal restitution procedure. The period in respect to which restitution claims can be filed will be extended, covering the years from 1933 to 1945 (previously 1938 to 1945). Assets that were not confiscated on the territory of present-day Austria but in regions controlled by the Third Reich will also have to be returned in the future. To speed up restitution procedures, recognition of heirs will be based on the Austrian law of succession. Thus time-consuming expert opinions under international private law usually not leading to new findings will become superfluous. The exception for restitution assets from the Monumental Protection Act, which requires permits for the export of specific assets, will be effective for a period of 25 years as from the handing-over of the object and will also apply to the restitution by the Länder (States) and municipalities. The term of office of the members of the Advisory Board on Restitution will be extended to three years so as to ensure their independence.
The cooperation between the Ministry, the Advisory Board on Restitution and the Provenance Research Committee is being re-structured. The Committee is afforded a legal status and has legal capacity in specific areas. A special statute clearly defines the independence of the provenance researchers. A member – or deputy member – of the Advisory Board on Restitution will be entrusted with developing a triennial program for the Provenance Research Committee and bringing research to fruition. This task was assigned to Eva Blimlinger in the Advisory Board meeting on 7 March 2008.
All these steps form part of a process already initiated by Minister of Culture Claudia Schmied in 2007. By appointing President of the Administrative Court Clemens Jabloner chairman of the Advisory Board on Restitution and by creating a special department for restitution affairs within the Federal Ministry of Education, Art and Culture, decisive steps have been taken to improve the restitution procedures of the Federal Republic.