Nobel drama rolls behind the scenes

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As traditional Nobel Peace Prize events unfold in Oslo this weekend and on Monday, an unprecedented political drama is still rolling around the make-up of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects Peace Prize winners. Calls are now going out for one of the committee’s most prominent members to resign, while another seat will only temporarily be filled after the candidate nominated for it was ruled ineligible.

Thorbjørn Jagland lost his post as leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee but remains a member. Now that role is also in doubt, because of controversy over his full-time job as secretary general of the Council of Europe. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The run-up to this year’s Peace Prize ceremony has been called a “circus,” after Norway’s conservative Progress Party refused to bow first to widespread objections and then to a majority in Parliament that declared the party’s candidate ineligible. Former Progress Party leader Carl I Hagen lost his bid for his party’s seat on the committee, after an acrimonious political battle that may have consequences for other political appointments.

As Progress and Hagen lick their wounds, and threaten to propose another controversial candidate for the committee, the parliamentary measure that disqualified Hagen also may have consequences for longtime Nobel Committee member Thorbjørn Jagland. That’s because it included a clause calling for a parliamentary evaluation of who else should be ineligible as Nobel Committee members. The clause specifically raises into question anyone who has leadership positions in international organizations.

Jagland, a veteran Norwegian politician and former prime minister, was first nominated by his Norwegian Labour Party colleagues and appointed to the committee by Parliament for a six-year term that began in 2009. He later was re-appointed for a second term that began in 2015 and runs until 2020.

Council of Europe post in question
In the meantime, however, Jagland also was elected as secretary general of the Council of Europe, an international organization based in Strasbourg with 47 member countries. Its primary goals are to uphold human rights, democracy, the rule of law in Europe and to promote European culture.

Those goals and Jaglands part in them have often been at odds with practices in member countries like Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, and more recently Poland and Hungary, where democracy and human rights are a matter of dispute. Questions have arisen over whether Jagland’s dual roles  can pose conflicts of interest for the secretive Norwegian Nobel Committee, which has received numerous nominations over the years involving leaders of human rights organizations, for example, in Russia and other European countries. Jagland’s roles were also questioned when he championed the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union in 2012.

The Conservative, Progress, Liberal and Christian Democrat parties are now all calling on Jagland to re-evaluate his role on the committee. “I hope Jagland listens to the signals from a majority in Parliament and steps aside after the Peace Prize is awarded on Sunday,” the vice-president of the Norwegian Parliament and MP for the Liberals, Abid Raja, told Norwegian Broadcasting on Friday.

Preserving the committee’s independence
At issue, just as in the controversy over the Progress Party’s nomination of alternate MP Hagen, is the political independence of the Nobel Committee. Many think it’s still bad enough that the parties in Parliament charged with appointing members of the committee (under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will) often choose their own veteran politicians to reward them for years of public service. Now they don’t think active leaders of international organizations should sit on the committee either.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee is a jewel for Norway,” said Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the Christian Democrats, live on NRK’s national radio program Debatten last week. “We should therefore avoid splits and spectacles around the prize and that we remain principled. It’s problematic that the secretary general of the Council of Europe sits on the committee, and I agree with the majority in Parliament: Thorbjørn Jagland should evaluate his role on the committee.”

The Conservatives and not least the Progress Party, bitter over the oppostion to its candidate, flat out want Jagland to resign. It’s all left the Labour Party that nominated him in an awkward position, since it put forth the parliamentary measures disqualifying all MPs including Hagen and questioning the eligibility of international leaders.

Labour’s two deputy leaders and MPs, Trond Giske and Hadia Tajik, say they won’t ask Jagland to resign and stress that he, unlike Hagen, was appointed to the committee before the new measure putting his position in question was passed. “The Progress Party set off a circus that first and foremost had to do with it and  (its candidate) Hagen,” Tajik told news bureau NTB. “Now they’re trying to make Jagland an issue.” She acknowledged that parliament will now evaluate whether leaders like Jagland can be appointed in the future, but stressed that “the formalities around Jagland are that he’s appointed to serve until 2020, and there’s nothing in the new measure that changes that.”

Jagland himself hasn’t been willing to comment on the issue.

New Progess candidate due
Meanwhile, the now-bitter Progress Party claims it will put forth a new candidate of its own for its seat on the Nobel Committee. It won’t be either a permanent or alternate member like Hagen was, but speculation is swirling around other right-wing candiates like Hege Storhaug of the controversial Human Rights Service group that’s critical towards Islam, immigration and asylum, and Vebjørn Selbekk, editor of a Christian news organization that published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that enraged Muslims a few years ago.

Kristin Clemet, a former Conservative politician and government minister, is due to fill the Progress Party’s seat on the committee until a permanent member is approved in Parliament. Progress claims that will occur before the Nobel Committee’s first meeting to discuss Peace Prize candidate in March. Clemet, head of a conservative think tank in Oslo, has been taken aback by the entire “circus” around the committee and her sudden role in it as one of the committee’s own alternate members.

“It’s been sad, because no has wanted such conflict around the committee,” Clemet told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. “It’s unfortunate.” Clemet, whose husband Michael Tetzschner, is the Conservative Party’s new foreign policy spokesman, admitted that “it can well be argued” against having politicians on the committee, but claimed that won’t cause problems in her case.

“I was asked to be an alternate member and don’t see that will cause any special problems for me,” Clemet said. She’s now due to serve from January 1st until the Progess Party replaces her.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund