EU opponents snub Nobel party

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EU leaders and as many as 18 heads of European governments will start descending on Oslo late next week to attend Nobel Peace Prize festivities in their honour, but several Norwegian government leaders and top politicians will be staying away. Their opposition to the EU, which won this year’s Peace Prize, is prompting anti-EU advocates to avoid the ceremony, and that’s exasperated officials at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is praising the European Union  for promoting “fraternity between nations,” one of the key criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize according to the will of its founder, Alfred Nobel. Some members of Norway’s government, however, are so opposed to the prize that they won’t attend the Peace Prize ceremony on December 10. PHOTO: European Commission

“This is provincial,” Geir Lundestad, secretary to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Thursday, adding, though, that he wasn’t surprised by the behaviour of, for example, politicians from the small and fervently anti-EU Center Party.

DN reported that none of Norway’s four government ministers from the Center Party will be attending the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on December 10. Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete, who serves as cabinet minister in charge of municipalities, will be spending the day in her home county of Sogn og Fjordane. Transport Minister Marit Arnstad thinks it’s more important to ceremoniously open a 5.5-kilometer stretch of highway between Torvund and Teigen. Agriculture Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, perhaps the most avid anti-EU politician because of his passion to protect Norwegian farmers from European and other foreign competition, won’t say what he’ll be doing but his staff confirmed he won’t be attending the ceremony because of “other government duties.” Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe will allegedly be busy in meetings on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

All government ministers traditionally attend the Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo’s City Hall regardless of political persuasion, but Navarsete denies her party is boycotting this year. “For one thing, the party has never approved a boycott of the Peace Prize,” she told DN, adding that the party’s parliamentarian leader Lars Peder Brekk will attend. Otherwise, she said, the decision to take part is left to individual party members.

Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete won’t be attending the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony because she opposes it being awarded to the EU.  Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, however, will be attending along with most of his other ministers, and welcoming his counterparts to Oslo from all over Europe. PHOTO: Regjeringen.no

Navarsete sits in the same government that was upset itself over attempts by the Chinese Embassy in Oslo to organize a boycott of the Peace Prize ceremony in 2010, because Chinese officials were furious that the prize was awarded to one of their leading dissidents, Liu Xiaobo. Now, boycott or not, she’s staying away just as the Chinese did. At least it may finally convince the Chinese that the Norwegian government has, indeed, no influence over who actually wins the Peace Prize.

“I believe it’s wrong to award the prize to the EU and therefore haven’t made (the ceremony) such a priority that I’ll take part, as opposed to other prizes that have been important,” Navarsete told DN. She claims the current unrest in large parts of Europe has been caused by EU policies, while the prize should be given to those working for peace.

Brekk earlier had told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the EU was “no good case for peace” and that “we will mark that by the party leadership’s and members of parliament refusing to attend.” He did say that he probably would attend, out of respect for the Nobel Institute, but he wasn’t sure.

Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad (right), shown here with committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, calls the decisions to avoid the Peace Prize ceremony “provincial.” PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Lundestad of the institute is not pleased. “This is a prize for what the EU has done and meant for the past six decades, where Europe has gone from being a continent of war to a continent of peace,” he told DN. “The prize has absolutely nothing to do with the debate on Norwegian membership in the EU.” Norway remains outside the EU, after voters twice have narrowly rejected joining, first through a referendum in 1972 and then another in 1994.

Lundestad stressed that the Center Party ministers’ decisions to avoid the ceremony raise several concerns, “if they’re going to sit there and evaluate whether they support the prize or not, and stay away if they don’t. That will unfortunately contribute to making the prize a political prize.”

Other anti-EU forces are boycotting the traditional torchlight parade held in honour of the winner but it seems there now will be at least two parades mounted by both anti- and pro-EU groups. Commentators have marveled over the”silliness” of this, with even one farmer who voted against joining the EU both times writing in newspaper Aftenposten that it had prompted him to resign from the anti-EU organization Nei til EU.

“I have no problems seeing that a Peace Prize for the EU is both important and correct,” wrote farmer Victor Hellern. He noted that a former leader of the Center Party sits on the Nobel Committee that awards the prize, and that both the Center and Socialist Left parties (the later also opposes the prize) are “out of step” with what the vast majority of Norwegians believe: That the EU has indeed kept the peace among its member nations, not least those that earlier fought each other in two world wars.

Lundestad, meanwhile, believes it’s “far more important” that “so many” heads of governments in EU member countries are coming to Oslo, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. As of Thursday, 18 national leaders had accepted the invitation to Oslo, along with top EU leaders including the president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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