The purpose of the bill, which will be debated on Tuesday, is to facilitate and accelerate the restitution of works in public collections that were looted from Jewish people in the period between Adolf Hitler’s rise to power as chancellor of Germany to the surrender of the Nazis at the end of World War II.
It is intended to establish an administrative mechanism to simplify the procedure for returning looted property that has since entered public collections, thus creating a framework law to avoid the need to introduce specific laws every time a piece of property is removed from public collections and returned to their rightful owners.
Works of art, books and musical instruments by the million were seized from Jewish people by Hitler’s supporters over that period.
Some items were found and returned to their owners after the immediate post-war period, and more were returned after 1995 after President Jacques Chirac's recognition of France’s responsibility for the deportation of the Jews of France.
But thousands of other looted cultural goods have not been identified and are still circulating today on the art market, or have entered the collections of public museums and libraries.
Property in public collections can currently only be restituted by the adoption of a law, allowing for an exception to the principle of inalienability of these collections.
Such restitutions have been rare until now, notably because of the process of removal from the public domain. A law of April 21st, 2022 authorised the handing over of 15 works from public collections, looted before and during the Second World War, including a painting by Gustav Klimt entitled Rosebushes under the Trees, kept by the Musée d'Orsay.
Under the draft bill, a decision to remove items from public collections can only be made after consulting a specialised administrative commission, responsible for establishing certain items were looted in the first place and recommending that they be returned.
This role would be entrusted to the Commission pour l’indemnisation des victimes de spoliations antisémites pendant l’Occupation (CIVS).