Top lawyer to join Nobel Committee

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Norway’s Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) is partially following its own advice to revamp the membership of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, by naming Berit Reiss-Andersen to one of its allotted committee positions. In doing so, the party is reaching outside the ranks of its own top political leadership, following debate over the committee’s independence.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Bar Association's 7,000 members, has been appointed to a spot on the prestigious Norwegian Nobel Committee. PHOTO; Advokatforeningen

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Thursday that Labour’s parliamentary leader, Helga Pedersen, had confirmed that Reiss-Andersen was selected to be its newest representative on the Nobel Committee, which selects the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee, under terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, is to be named by the Norwegian Parliament and thus has generally reflected the parliament’s make-up over the years. That’s why two of the committee’s five positions currently are filled by people recommended by Labour, given Labour’s standing in parliament after the last election. Reiss-Andersen will replace Sissel Rønbeck, a former government minister for Labour and Member of Parliament and longtime Nobel Committee member, whose term was up.

Reiss-Andersen has had strong ties to Labour and served as a state secretary in the Justice Ministry in the mid-1990s, but she’s never held elected office. Her appointment, reported DN, marks the first time in 30 years that Labour has named someone to the Nobel Committee who is not part of the central party leadership or holds a top position within the trade union confederation (LO)

Instead Reiss-Andersen has emerged over the past several years as a highly respected criminal lawyer, active in many high-profile cases and qualified to represent clients before Norway’s Supreme Court. She also currently serves as head of Advokatforeningen (The Norwegian Bar Association) and once co-authored two popular crime novels with leading Norwegian author Anne Holt.

Reiss-Andersen’s Nobel appointment follows months of debate over the make-up and independence of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. China, furious over last year’s Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, has blamed the Norwegian government for the prize and all but frozen diplomatic relations with Norway, despite the government’s insistence that it had and has no influence over who wins the prize. That decision is left strictly to the committee, which also has members from three other parties in Parliament: the Conservatives, the Progress Party and the Socialist Left party (SV). The term of the committee member who can be appointed by the Progress Party, given its standing in parliament, was also up this year, but party leader Siv Jensen told DN that Inger-Marie Ytterhorn would continue in the post.

Labour, shaken by China’s vociferous response to last year’s prize, clearly has been reconsidering its appointment process. Party secretary Raymond Johansen made what he described as a “personal” call for changes in the committee’s composition earlier this autumn, saying he “could understand” that it could be “difficult” to view the committee as completely independent of the Norwegian government. Reiss-Andersen’s appointment symbolizes such a change.

Labour’s Helga Pedersen called Reiss-Andersen, age 57, “a person with political integrity, personal integrity and great talent.” She noted, however, that Reiss-Andersen was “clearly anchored in Norwegian politics,” calling that “an important qualification.” That indicates that politics continue to play a role in the committee selection, if not in the selection of the actual Peace Prize winners.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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