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The Finnish Presidency of the Council of Ministers declined to hold a vote on droit de suite when it became clear that at least six member states, led by the UK, opposed the scheme.

BAMF chairman Anthony Browne said the failure to vote was indicative of the compelling economic case made by the UK government and the market’s own surveys showing that jobs and business would be lost in Britain as a result of the introduction of droit de suite – and at no benefit to other member states.

Droit de suite – a levy to be paid to the artist or their heirs up to 70 years after the artist’s death on each resale of a work of art – has been criticised as it often fails to fulfil the practical purpose of its introduction: benefiting poor artists who sell their work for a pittance only to see it reach huge prices once it is out of their hands. In France the lion’s share of droit de suite revenues goes to the already wealthy Picasso and Matisse families.

Campaigners against the measure have condemned what they see as the blinkered stubbornness of the EU in insisting that harmonisation of policy across member states means introducing droit de suite in the UK rather than abandoning it elsewhere. Abandoning it would mean Europe could have equality without being put at a competitive disadvantage compared with the United States and Switzerland where there is no such levy.

“This is a moral victory for our case and implicit proof that the Commission has failed to make the economic case for European harmonisation, independently of our global competitors,” said Mr Browne. “Given that this is the third time the Council has failed to reach a conclusion on the measure, the only appropriate action is for the proposal to be dropped forthwith.”

Despite the strength of the argument against the imposition of droit de suite, Mr Browne believes it is unlikely that the Commission will heed his call as the blocking minority may yet falter. The British Government has hardened its already robust stand against the measure since an independent survey earlier this year showed that, where droit de suite applied, the UK could lose as much as 78 per cent of its business by 2005. British opposition to the measure enjoys cross-party support in Parliament.