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EU brings Greek demand for Elgin Marbles into Brexit talks


The European Union has opened up the prospect that Greece’s claim on the Elgin Marbles could become a bargaining chip in negotiations over its future relationship with Britain.

EU brings Greek demand for Elgin Marbles into Brexit talks
A section of the Parthenon Frieze on display at The British Museum in London
[Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]


The latest draft of the EU’s negotiating mandate, seen by Bloomberg News, says that the U.K. will need to “address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin.”

Officials involved on both sides said the clause was widely interpreted as a direct reference to the ancient statues in the British Museum that were taken from the Parthenon in Athens at the start of the 19th century. A Greek official denied that the clause related to the statues, saying they remain a bilateral issue between the two countries. The official said it was a reference to stolen pieces including a number of 18th and 19th century paintings that often turn up at auction houses in London.

The document, due to be finalized on Wednesday, sets the parameters for the EU’s position for the negotiations which start next month.


The squabble between Greece and the U.K. over ownership of the statues has been running for decades, with the British government refusing to budge despite repeated attempts by authorities in Athens to repatriate them.

The mandate shows how the remaining 27 EU countries are putting down markers so that they can add their own specific grievances to the U.K. trade deal mix. Spain is talking up its claims on the British territory of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean while France is demanding conditions on fishing rights.

The latest draft also clarifies the EU’s position on equivalence for financial services, saying there must be “transparency and appropriate consultation” between the EU and U.K.

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, there is a new section on cooperation on combating pandemics. Both sides should “aim to cooperate in international fora on prevention, detection, preparation for and response to established and emerging threats to health security,” the document says.

Author: Ian Wishart | Source: Bloomberg [February 18, 2020]

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