Professor Francesco Buranelli of the Vatican suggests that forming the New Acropolis Museum as a pan-European museum may be the best way for Greece to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles. His idea was first proposed in the Greek language press a few weeks ago & was received with interest by many involved in the issue.
The Times 
December 4, 2008
Call to unite Parthenon marbles
The never-ending tussle between Britain and Greece over the Elgin Marbles should be resolved by creating a pan-European museum in Athens at which all the fragments from the Parthenon would be brought together under a British director, a Vatican offical says.
Professor Francesco Buranelli, the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, said: “The moment has come to set up the first European museum, with the same kind of extraterritorial status accorded to embassies.”
The states which own Parthenon fragments — Britain, France, Germany, Denmark and the Holy See — could then “put them on permanent display, maintaining their legitimate ownership of the works while bringing together a heritage which belongs to the whole of humanity”.
Buranelli, the former director of the Vatican Museums, said the idea had been inspired by the “marvellous” new Museum of the Acropolis in Athens, and by decisions by Italy to return a marble fragment “on permanent deposit” and by Germany and the Holy See to hand back fragments on temporary loan.
Professor Buranelli said that longstanding Greek demands for the British Museum to give up the Elgin Marbles were misplaced since they had been acquired “legitimately” during Ottoman rule in Greece. The Parthenon, which became a church and then a mosque, had suffered a violent explosion when struck by a cannonball fired at the Turks by the Venetians during the siege of the city in 1687.
Decorations by the sculptor Phydias and his workshop lay forgotten on the ground until Lord Elgin, then British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, including Greece, transported them to London in 1801, “interpreting in his own favour” permission given by the Turkish sultan to “remove the ruins for purposes of documentation”.
Elgin’s act had allowed for the conservation and display of the marbles over the years, and saved them from a worse fate. It had also, however, “left a deep wound in European cultural sensitivity”. A determined campaign by Greece, most famously by Melina Mercouri, the Culture Minister in the 1980s, to obtain restitution of the Marbles had failed because it had no juridical legitimacy.
Returning the Marbles would “unleash an earthquake of infinite requests for restitution of artworks, and thus set in motion a process which would not be easily managed”, Professor Buranelli said. “Most countries now have laws covering the conservation of their cultural artworks, and in none of the countries is there a principle of retroactivity.”
But in the case of the Parthenon, an attempt should be made “to recompose the unity of a monument which is symbolic not just of Greek history, but also of Western thought, held by all to be a symbol of harmony and democracy”.
The common denominator of the countries which held Parthenon fragments was Europe, Professor Buranelli said. “Imagine that Greece hands over the problem to the European Union, and puts that sector of the Acropolis Museum dedicated to the Parthenon at its disposal.” The result would be a new model of conservation and culture where “with full respect for present-day ownership” European countries “could promote for the first time a truly international museum, with a European statute and staff, with the sole intention of giving back to humanity the patrimony that belongs to it”.
Professor Buranelli said the head of the new museum “should probably be British, given that Britain holds the majority of the Marbles”. The effect would be “to give us back a monument which since the 5th century BC has been a symbol of the unity and democracy of Greece, and which today could repropose the same spirit of unity and democracy to Europe and the world”.
In September President Napolitano of Italy returned to Greece a fragment depicting the right foot and robe hem of the Greek goddess Artemis from a museum in Palermo. It had been removed by Lord Elgin, who gave it to the British consul-general in Sicily. President Papoulias of Greece said: “Greece aspires to bring back the Parthenon Marbles, so you can understand the contribution and importance of this gesture”.