ATG Editor-in-Chief Mark Bridge (centre) adds an international perspective at the French auctioneers’ annual conference.

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The overall topic of the day was how to evolve and develop the French auction market and several themed discussion panels had been set up to examine areas of particular relevance.

They included technology and the internet, management and socio-economic and territorial factors, the last featuring ATG's own editor-in-chief Mark Bridge who was on the panel to provide an international perspective.

Understandably, though, the forum which most exercised the minds of the French auctioneers was a discussion of the major reforms of 2000 that changed the French commissaire-priseur (auctioneer) from a state-appointed official to a commercial operator and opened up the market to foreign competitors.

This brought about a raft of changes, not all of them welcome to the auctioneering fraternity. French auctioneers are still hide-bound by bureaucracy. An auction council or watchdog polices their conduct with powers to suspend for contraventions. Strict time limits are also imposed on negotiated sales post-auction.

Much of the discussion from the panel and the floor focused upon how matters might be improved. Hervé Chayette, SYMEV's president, has made no secret of his campaign to lobby for change to the law. "Reform the Reform" has become his battle cry and he raised the point once more in his opening speech.

Fortunately for the commissaires-priseurs there are signs that the French government is listening.

The opening address to the conference was given by Justice Minister Pascal Clement who acknowledged that six years after its introduction, certain modifications needed to be brought to the reform.

He told delegates that there were six areas where amendments would be made or considered. These relate to: entrance qualifications and training, time limits for reoffering lots from aborted sales and after sales, financial guarantees provided by the auction house, suspension of auction activities by the auction council and maintaining records for police checks.