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Parthenon Sculptures talks to drag into 2025

Talks between the Greek government and the British Museum on a possible transfer of the Parthenon Sculptures in the form of a loan are not expected to bear fruit before 2025 and, in any case, there are numerous legal and political obstacles to such an agreement.

While UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was widely panned for the undiplomatic canceling of his meeting with his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, last Monday over the latter’s mention of the Sculptures in an interview to the BBC, opposition leader Keir Starmer made it clear when he met Mitsotakis that the issue is entirely up to the British Museum. Starmer did promise to respect any agreement between the Greek government and the museum.

A 1963 law expressly forbids the museum from gifting or lending its exhibits, while, on the other hand, Greece would not be satisfied by a “loan,” however long-term. And even if some legal formula could be found to somehow bridge those seemingly incompatible views, there is the real prospect of a barrage of lawsuits from both countries. And that’s not even considering the storm that would erupt in Greece if the “loaned” Sculptures were to be returned to London.

Despite the enormous legal difficulties, legal teams on both sides are at work. Lawyers are advising British Museum Chairman George Osborne; on the Greek side, a legal team has been advising Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis.

Although Osborne mildly criticized Sunak’s undiplomatic action, it can be ruled out that he, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative government, would embarrass his party with an agreement before the next national elections in 2024 or, at the latest, in January 2025. Any developments over the Sculptures must wait until then.