The EU wins the Nobel Peace Prize

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The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the currently deeply troubled European Union (EU), citing the crucial role it has played in preserving peace among member nations. Most Norwegians have never wanted to join the EU, but their Nobel Committee praised it for contributing “to peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights” in Europe, and the committee clearly wants that to continue.

The European Union was praised for promoting “fraternity between nations,” one of the key criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize according to the will of its founder, Alfred Nobel. PHOTO: European Commission

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, who earlier has called the EU one of the “greatest peace projects” in world history, said he and the committee were “sending a message” to all 27 member states of the EU to do all they can to hold their union together in a time of what he called “grave economic difficulties.”

Jagland said the committee was worried about rising nationalism within the EU and the threat to its very existence, because of the debt crisis that’s causing huge economic and social rest in EU member countries like Greece and Spain.

“We want to remind Europeans what they can lose if the EU falls apart,” Jagland said.

The prize was also viewed as a sign of support for the EU during its current crisis. Jagland highlighted its historic achievements since its predecessor organizations were founded after World War II. He claimed the EU has proven “how historic enemies (like France and Germany) can become close partners.”

The five-member Nobel Committee also praised the EU’s expansion and especially the looming membership of countries like Croatia and Montenegro. “These were people (residents of both countries) who were slaughtering one another in the Balkans,” said Jagland, noting that a prize to an organization like the EU,which represents “fraternity between nations” clearly abides by the terms of the will of the prize’s late benefactor Alfred Nobel.

Controversial within Norway
Jagland, who has led the awarding of several controversial Peace Prizes since taking over as head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, may have topped himself with this prize, at least at home in Norway. It is perhaps the ultimate irony that a bipartisan group of Norwegians would award a prize to the EU, since Norwegians have themselves rejected membership in the EU twice, in 1972 and 1994. Recent public opinion polls have shown that opposition to joining the EU is stronger than ever before.

EU membership has been one of Norway’s most hotly debated issues, so hot that Norway’s current left-center government coalition had to put the matter on ice when they took over in 2005 for the sake of government unity, because the three parties making up the coalition disagree among themselves. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his supporters within the Labour Party (where Jagland also has his roots) favour EU membership, but others on the left side of the party are skeptical and Labour’s two coalition partners are firmly opposed to EU membership.

Norway, with its oil wealth, is alternately viewed as being selfish for not joining the EU (to keep a firm a grip on its own protectionist policies and not have to answer to Brussels) and smart (for having avoided direct involvement in the current debt crisis). Norwegians, otherwise known for trying to play a major role on the world stage, often explain their refusal to join the EU by the threat they see it could have on their sovereignty, highly regulated economy and controlled markets. Norway does pay billions every year into EU coffers to gain access to EU markets through its membership in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but still tries to protect its own markets at home. The rising nationalism the Nobel Committee worried about in deciding upon its prize to the EU has arguably been alive and well in Norway all along.

These are the other four persons, in addition to Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, who decided this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. From left: Kaci Kullmann Five, former government minister for Norway’s Conservative Party; Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, former Member of Parliament for Norway’s Progress Party; Berit Reiss-Andersen, president of the Norwegian Bar Association; and Gunnar Stålsett, former Bishop of Oslo and leader of the Center Party. Stålsett is serving for Ågot Valle, a former MP of the Socialist Left party (SV), who is on sick leave. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Jagland stressed that the award was the unanimous decision of the five-member group made up of persons appointed, under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, by the Norwegian Parliament. That makes the reward remarkable in itself, because some of the committee members have ties to political parties in Norway that consistently have opposed EU membership.

The current committee that decided this year’s winner consists of Kaci Kullmann Five, a former government minister and Member of Parliament for Norway’s Conservative Party; Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, a former Member of Parliament for Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party; Berit Reiss-Andersen, a new member appointed last year who is a prominent lawyer in Norway and president of the Norwegian Bar Association; and Gunnar Stålsett, a former bishop of Oslo and leader of the Center Party from 1977-79. Stålsett, who also was a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee during two earlier periods in the 1980s and ’90s, is sitting in for permanent member Ågot Valle, who is on sick leave. The party he once led has traditionally been the most vociferous opponent of the EU, because membership could threaten Norway’s enormous levels of support for its farmers and the market access that restricts for EU agricultural products.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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