Borders controlled during EU’s party

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Few dispute the need for the high security that will be in place when around 20 European prime ministers and presidents stream into Oslo on Monday, to celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU). Some are joking over the irony, though, of Norway setting aside EU rules and reinstating border controls, in connection with an event honouring an organization that’s worked hard to break down barriers among countries.

Police will be prominently in place during the annual “Nobel Days” in Oslo that begin this weekend. At least 20 EU government leaders will be in town to see the EU win the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday, and security will be high.

“It’s ironic that when we finally get an EU meeting in Norway, we make exceptions to the EU’s own rules,” Paal Frisvold, leader of the pro-EU group Europabevegelsen, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday.

Those rules, through what’s known as the “Schengen agreement,” call for open borders among most EU member countries and non-members like Norway, which has a special trade agreement with the EU through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Frisvold noted that officials in Brussels, where the EU is based, seldom if ever set aside the Schengen rules during EU summit meetings as a security measure, yet Norway has just that. He laughed at the prospect of being stopped himself for passport control when he returns to Norway for the special Nobel events starting this weekend.

Stein Ørnhøi, a politician for the Socialist Left party (SV) and former head of the group that’s fought EU membership for Norway, also thought the border controls aimed at protecting visitors arriving for the Nobel and EU festivities were funny. “So they (the police) have to suspend the EU rules to secure EU leaders?” laughed Ørnhøi, who long has claimed that the EU’s border liberalization through Schengen has allowed free movement of criminals.

“If Schengen is so risky that the police don’t dare have EU leaders in Norway without suspending it, then there must be something wrong with the whole Schengen project,” Ørnhøi told Dagsavisen.

‘Securing the public order’
Norwegian police decided to reinstate border controls for 10 days before, during and after the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony on December 10. A press release from the police states that all passports are being checked at entry points into Norway “to secure the public order and safety,” and prevent entry of potentially violent persons who want to create disruption. The border control began on Monday and will run until December 12.

Air space over the Norwegian capital will also be closed and armed police will be on the streets of downtown Oslo, especially around the Oslo City Hall where the Peace Prize ceremony takes place and the Grand Hotel, where the winners traditionally stay.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti are among those due to arrive in Oslo on Monday, along with Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Antonis Samaras of Greece. They’ve been met with violent demonstrations at home in recent months, because of protests over budget cuts demanded by the EU. Police in Norway want to prevent any violence in Oslo.

The Oslo police also have called in reinforcements from other police districts, with police from Sweden and Denmark possibly helping out as well. The Nobel Prize ceremony often presents security challenges for the relatively small Norwegian police force, and this year’s assembly of so many national leaders makes it almost as big a challenge as when US President Barack Obama was awarded the prize in 2009.

Johan Fredriksen of the Oslo Police said the full guest list still hadn’t been confirmed, and some government leaders may not decide whether to come to Oslo until as late as Monday morning.

The prize itself will be formally accepted in the traditional ceremony at 1pm on December 10 by EU President Herman Van Rompuy, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. Many of the dignitaries will travel home again Monday afternoon, meaning not everyone will be staying for the traditional banquet at the Grand Hotel in the evening, or staying over for the Nobel Concert the next evening.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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