Nobel brings the EU to Norway

It took a Nobel Peace Prize to assemble so many leaders of the European Union (EU) in Oslo that they could hold a summit meeting of sorts, with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as their host. It was an unprecedented event in Norway, with smiles and camaraderie warming the chill outdoors.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (foreground) was among key EU leaders in Oslo on Monday to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (to the right of Merkel) grabbed the opportunity to invite all the EU dignitaries to lunch and host the first EU-summit of sorts on Norwegian soil, since Norway remains outside the union. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Per Thrana

Smiling and chatting with one another, the government and EU leaders appeared to be in a good mood, and proud that the union holding them together had won the Peace Prize despite its current economic crisis.

They were, perhaps, still basking in the glow of the loud and lengthy applause accorded German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who had been sitting next to each other at the Peace Prize ceremony. When Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland called their presence at the ceremony “very symbolic for all of us,” because of the importance of Franco-German reconciliation after World War II, the applause went on for so long that both Merkel and Hollande spontaneously responded by rising from their seats and acknowledging it, despite current conflicts over how to deal with the massive debts of member nations.

With around two dozen leaders of the main EU institutions and member governments in town, it was only natural for Stoltenberg to invite them all for a “working lunch” after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. That also provided an opportunity for a traditional “family photo” be taken with Stoltenberg in the center of it, even though Norway has never joined the EU and polls show 80 percent of Norwegians opposed to doing so. Stoltenberg and his guests nonetheless willingly posed before getting down to some business Monday afternoon.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (front row, fourth from left) could, for once, join a “family photo” of EU leaders who came to Oslo to see the EU win the Nobel Peace Prize. At far left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and at far right, French President Francois Hollande. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Per Thrana

Stoltenberg, who called the Nobel ceremony “really touching,” said it was “day of celebration” and a “day to look forward,” which he thought could best be marked by recognizing Europe’s challenges. He risked dampening the mood before his guests even had a bite to eat by referring to Europe’s weak economic growth and the “human tragedy” of high unemployment, but also noted that it was “encouraging” to see that “progress is now being made” on addressing the difficulties.

The key, Stoltenberg suggested, was to find “the right balance” between solidarity and responsibility, between growth and budgetary discipline. He earlier had indicated an eagerness to share “the Norwegian model” with his EU guests, a system based on close cooperation between labour and business and a strong social welfare state.

Journalists were asked to leave the room before the discussion began, but Stoltenberg did note that while Norway isn’t a member of the EU, it is a member of the EU’s internal market, with 80 percent of Norwegian exports going to EU countries. “The future of Europe is the future of Norway,” he declared, adding that “we, too, need to see renewed growth in the EU.”

Most of the EU government leaders traveled home after the luncheon but Stoltenberg maintains close ties with Merkel and visited Hollande in Paris late last month. Both he, Jagland and the three presidents of EU institutions who formally accepted the Peace Prize claimed the current crisis will make the EU and European integration stronger and more effective. The prize was, perhaps more than anything, a vote of confidence and incentive for the EU to keep calm and carry on.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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