Nobel Banquet: 'Dinner for sponsors'

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Some senior members of the Norwegian Parliament were more than a little miffed on Thursday, after failing to get invitations to the annual Nobel Banquet at the Grand Hotel honoring the Peace Prize winner. Several felt they lost their spots to commercial sponsors of the Nobel Peace Center.

“I have registered that this banquet has become a sponsor dinner, where information chiefs of private companies are favoured over Parliamentary officials,” Per-Kristian Foss, a former Finance Minister and now vice-president of the Parliament, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) .

Foss was among those feeling overlooked after it became clear that the President of the Norwegian Parliament (akin to the Speaker of the House in the US Congress) was the only Parliamentary official to be invited to this year’s banquet. Not even the head of the Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee was invited.

Nor were other top politicians including Marit Nybakk of the Labour Party and Akhtar Chaudhry of the Socialist Left, one of the Parliament’s few non-ethnic Norwegians.

The heads of the two other parties in the current government coalition were also left off off the guest list: Former Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left (now Education Minister) and fellow cabinet minister Liv Signe Navarsete of the Center Party.

“I think it’s rather unusual that the top officials of the Parliament weren’t invited,” said Øyvind Korsberg of the Progress Party. “Not least because it’s the Parliament that appoints the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.”They’ve always been invited before, but this year, a large delegation from the US and the need for extra security (because the prize winner is US President Barack Obama) put extra pressure on the guest list, according to Geir Lundestad of the Nobel Institute.

“This year we actually had to cut out 30 persons who normally are invited to the banquet,” Lundestad told DN. “So there are some who are disappointed.”

Making the cut, however, are several executives and employees of companies that have contributed financially to the Nobel Peace Center. That’s what’s irritated the politicians who felt they should have priority over commercial interests.

Included on the guest list, for example, are the chief executive of fertilizer company Yara, eight persons from US-based IBM, the former managing director of accounting firm KPMG and his wife, and the CEO and communications director of industrial firm Hydro with their own guests. All have contributed money to the Nobel Peace Center.

Also invited are the chairman of newspaper Dagbladet and his wife, the CEO of Norway’s biggest and partially state-owned bank DnB NOR and his wife (both friends of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg), and the CEO of Telenor with two other Telenor executives and their guests.

Member of Parliament Nybakk called the selection of guests a clear sign that the Parliament has carried a lower priority than commercial interests. “For me personally it doesn’t matter, but I think there is reason to react when a company like IBM gets eight seats at the tables,” Nybakk said.

The banquet is meant to honor the Peace Prize winner and also is attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, member of the government, the Parliamentary leaders of each political party and the heads of trade union confederation LO and the employers’ organization NHL. This year’s winner, Obama, made the banquet especially attractive.

The menu is always kept secret and created specially for the Peace Prize winner. It’s sometimes made available throughout the next year to the general public at the Grand Hotel’s gourmet restaurant Julius Fritzner.