Sp retreats from Nobel-EU protest

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After being met with a barrage of criticism from government colleagues, opposition parties in Parliament, national commentators and even some of their own party members, Norway’s small but feisty Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) is reining in its protest over the upcoming award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU). The party remains fiercely opposed to the EU, but apparently realized its Nobel snub was anything but noble.

Center Party (Sp) leader Liv Signe Navarsete (left) has harshly criticized this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the EU and said she won’t attend next Monday’s prize ceremony. Her deputy, Agriculture Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (right), now says he will attend, following massive criticism over the initially planned absence of Navarsete and Sp’s other government ministers. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Center Party (Sp) politicians are not known for admitting mistakes, even when an overwhelming majority of Norwegians oppose their politics. In the case of the Nobel Peace Prize, however, they beat a retreat over the initial decisions of all four of Sp’s government ministers to stay away from the prize ceremony next Monday. Now at least Agriculture Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum will attend the ceremony in Oslo’s City Hall after all.

“I have now found time to take part in the awards ceremony in the Oslo City Hall,” Vedum told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), which had broken the story late last week that both he and his three Sp ministerial colleagues had all declined the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s invitations to attend. It’s traditional for all members of government to attend the Nobel ceremony despite their own political views on who wins the prize, so Sp’s absence was viewed as defiant indeed.

Party leader and cabinet minister Liv Signe Navarsete, who has harshly criticized the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, was still expected to stay away from the ceremony that’s always held on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s birth. Neither Sp’s Transport Minister Marit Arnstad nor Sp’s Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe are expected to attend either, contending they’re busy with other duties.

Importance of ‘respect for the Peace Prize’
They’ve all been roundly criticized for avoiding the Nobel ceremony, not least by their own government ministerial colleagues from both the Socialist Left party (SV), which also firmly opposes the EU, and Labour. Some suggest Sp’s ministerial absence suggests a lack of respect for the prize and damages their own government. SV politicians clearly disagree with their government partners’ decisions to stay away, saying it was important to attend the Nobel ceremony “out of respect for the Peace Prize” regardless of what they might think about the winner. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also cited the importance of respect for the prize, while others cautioned against further politicizing it.

That’s what probably made the Sp-ministers’ action the most embarrassing and potentially damaging for their own government, which has spent the past two years deflecting anger from Chinese officials who have held the government responsible for the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. The government, including its Sp members, has tried to point out how it has nothing to do with the decisions of the Nobel Committee, and while Sp’s objections to this year’s prize can confirm that, the party nonetheless resorted to making its own political statement over the EU as winner. The presence of all the government ministers at the ceremony in 2010 was interpreted by the Chinese as a sign of support for the prize to Liu. The Sp-ministers’ decision to stay away this year could thus be seen as a sign that attendance would also express support for the EU.

Erna Solberg, leader of the biggest party in opposition, the Conservatives, and experts on Chinese policy were also among those calling on Sp to reverse its protest over a Nobel to the EU. Even key forces within Sp were irritated by their leaders’ behaviour over the prize and how poorly Navarsete and her top party colleagues had handled the issue. The party had formally protested the prize to the EU at a party meeting in November, but later claimed they weren’t mounting a boycott.

Rearranged his schedule
Neither Vedum nor Navarsete would directly concede to all the noise over their initial position, with Vedum merely telling DN that the Nobel committee is indeed independent and that his party clearly had nothing to do with its decision. He said he’d simply rearranged his schedule and would now “rather take part in the ceremony,” noting that “the most important is that our parliamentary leader will also take part, and that’s been the plan all along.”

Vedum added that “what I personally believe” about the EU “had no bearing” on the matter. There were no apologies from anyone at Sp for the controversy they stirred at a time when the government more than ever needs to show solidarity in the run-up to next year’s national election.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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