The proposed deal to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece would be the first of its kind, with the Mediterranean country’s ancient treasures used as “collateral” to secure a final compromise, The Telegraph can reveal.
Negotiators from the British Museum and the Greek government have been locked in talks to try to overcome the red lines by which both parties are united.
The law prevents the British Museum from handing over the artifacts, but any loan agreement for the 2,500-year-old works of art would require the Greek government to agree that the British Museum is the legal owner of them, something it cannot do because it claims that the artifacts were in fact “stolen.”
The Telegraph understands that negotiators are trying to “invent” a new type of deal that could circumvent this impasse, with ancient Greek treasures sent to the UK as “collateral” rather than the standard guarantees on property that have so far held back any agreement. .
Talks are underway between the chairman of the British Museum, George Osborne, and “the Greek government at the highest level”, according to sources close to the proposed deal, who have said both sides are being “inventive” to come up with a deal that not be legalistic but “practical”, and able to deliver the Marbles to Athens.
A source revealed that this would be “a hybrid form that would not include certain demands” and therefore would not cross the “red lines” of either party, offering something resembling a “permanent” solution to the diplomatic spat over the artworks.
For the British Museum, the main red line is UK law, which through the British Museum Act of 1963 prevents the institution from giving away artifacts from its collection, including the Elgin Marbles.
He is open to loan agreements for his disputed treasures, but these come with the demand that other parties acknowledge his legal ownership of whatever is being loaned, a standard stipulation that assures trustees that they will repossess these artifacts.
However, successive Greek governments have maintained that Lord Elgin stole the Parthenon Marbles from Athens in the early 19th century before selling them to the British Museum, and therefore cannot accept their legal ownership.
Only an Act of Parliament was supposed to upset UK law and allow the British Museum to hand over the artifacts, but The Telegraph can reveal that sources close to the negotiations believe a deal is possible and closer than ever to a deal. . .
This “hybrid” deal could essentially involve ignoring ownership issues, with neither party being forced to accept the other’s claims to the Marbles, and the British Museum allowing them to leave their Bloomsbury base without the usual guarantees.
Instead, the artifacts shipped from Greece to London as part of this potential deal could “act as a kind of legal collateral” as the British Museum holds a rotating series of ancient Greek treasures as security against the delivery of the Elgin pieces. .
Sources have suggested that the deal would not be considered a “loan”, an anathema word for the Greek side, but rather a “much more permanent deal”.
The most important figures of the Greek government
While London officials were thought to be running the talks, negotiations with Osborne are being monitored by the most senior figures in the Greek government, who for months have been focused on devising a deal that sidesteps thorny issues that have impeded any solution to the row.
Requests for repatriation began shortly after Greece became independent in 1832, just decades after Lord Elgin oversaw the removal of scenes from marble friezes, metopes (carved plaques) and statues from the Parthenon in Athens. The British Museum maintains that the statues were legally acquired.
If the Elgin pieces were to be returned to Athens, they would most likely be placed in the Acropolis Museum of Athens, which focuses on the Parthenon and its surrounding complex.
The British Museum has been contacted for comment.