All this mean that George Papandreou's problems are also the EU's problem. Sure, as one of Greece’s best known scholars Loukas Tsoukalis says, “there is no denying that the prime responsibility for dealing with the Greek problem lies with the Greeks themselves.” But answers to these problems will also have to come from Berlin, Paris and Frankfurt, home of the ECB. But London can play a role too.
Here is my humble suggestion: we give back the Elgin Marbles. Nothing would boost Papandreou's popularity more than if the marbles were brought home under his premiership. Don’t take my word for it – just recall the exchange in October 2003 at a European summit in Brussels, when the cameras caught a conversation between Tony Blair and the then Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis. "Tony," Simitis said, "I would like to discuss with you about the marbles ... as you know we have elections next year in Greece. This could be useful.”
Then, the Greek pitch was for party political advantage; now it would serve national unity. Papandreou will only be able to reform his country if he is strong; he will only manage to stabilise Macedonia if he is popular – and only reform and stability will prevent the problem getting worse.
One, a man I greatly admire and whose knowledge of that part of the world far supersedes mine, argued to me that the difference between Britain and Greece was exactly that here rules cannot just be broken for political aims. For its part, the British Museum is reluctant to part with the marbles because they think doing so would be to open the floodgates to demands of other things Britain taken in the past. Nor is it clear it will work – the Greeks may just take back marbles, and continue as is.
But I'm not sure the rules are that clear, that a precedent would be set, or that the benefits to Britain of keeping the marbles are that obvious now that Greece has a museum to house and preserve the treasure. The benefits in Greece (and, by extension, to Britain's strategic interests) are also quite clear.
There was never an open and shut case for the marbles to be returned; and there was no open and shut case for them staying in London. It was always a question of political calculation. Now, the balance tilts towards handing Elgin's loot back – in exchange for a private undertaking on reforms and a resolution to the Macedonian name dispute.