Don’t Lose Your Marbles: The Parthenon marbles are becoming a pawn in the UK-EU battle

September 6, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The new Greek prime minister has proposed a pragmatic deal to end a historic battle over the Parthenon marbles (a collection of Classical Greek marble structures).This could signal an opportunity for France and Germany to strengthen the support for a united EU, against Britain’s euroscepticism.

What does this mean?

The newly elected Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has announced that he is willing to allow ancient Greek artefacts that have never been shown abroad before to be exhibited in London. This is in exchange for the Parthenon marbles being loaned to Athens for 2021 (the marbles are currently in the British Museum in the UK). The year 2021 holds particular importance for Greece, as it will mark the 200-year celebration of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottomans, which started in 1821.

Since repatriation was first raised by the Greek politician Melina Mercouri in the 1980s, the British Museum has persistently rejected such requests. But in several surveys, the British people have voiced support for the Greek cause; a YouGov poll conducted in 2014 revealed that only 23% wanted the antiquities to remain in the UK.

What's the big picture effect?

The time of this request to Britain is essential, as it coincided with two of Mitsotakis’s state visits to fellow EU leaders.

Firstly, Mitsotakis received an unexpectedly enthusiastic response from France to return part of the Parthenon’s frieze, now hosted in the Louvre, to Greece. The discussion between the two leaders took place during the Greek PM’s first official visit to Paris and was concluded by the following remarks by Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “As part of the concept of promoting our common European culture, there needs to be more fluidity and more movement”.

Secondly, after his visit to Macron, Mitsotakis set out to meet Merkel, with whom he discussed on very good terms a joint investment programme in green technology, renewable energy, and waste management. These are areas in which there is room for huge profit in Greece due to its favourable climate.

This second meeting might be seemingly unrelated to cultural property, yet Mitsotakis is established as a well-esteemed EU politician. He has the support of the major EU leaders, and they did not miss the chance to emphasise their mutual European identity. Such an emphasis implicitly excludes Boris Johnson, due to the dismissive way with which he has been treating this European identity.

Therefore, an unexpected spillover of the bitter EU-British relations might be support for the Greek case that the Parthenon marbles be returned by Britain. France and Germany’s support serves as a strong symbol of the solidarity between EU members, especially against the UK.

Report written by Vasiliki Poula

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