Torchlight protest failed to ignite

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Only a few hundred EU skeptics turned out Sunday evening to protest the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU). Thousands had been expected, but organizers claimed they weren’t disappointed.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was clearly prepared to cover a major demonstration on the streets of Oslo Sunday evening, with several reporters and cameras in place along the route, but it rather fizzled out, either because of the cold weather or lack of interest, or both. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

“It’s cold, and we did succeed in stirring up debate on this,” Heming Olaussen, leader of Nei til EU (No to the EU), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He admitted he wished more people had shown up, but he and his co-organizers insisted they didn’t feel let down. “The most important thing is that we got this protest on the agenda,” he said.

It was believed to be the first time that a torchlight parade was held in Oslo to demonstrate against the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize. Such parades held when the prize is awarded in the dark month of December traditionally have hailed the winners, not criticized them.

This year, in a country where EU skeptics have long reigned supreme, it had been no problem to organize the unusual counter demonstration. Nei til EU, the organization that has fought against all attempts to get Norwegians to join the EU, was among more than 30 other groups that quickly banded together after the prize was announced in October, including Save the Children’s youth organization, the anti-EU Center Party and the Oslo chapter of the trade union federation LO. They apparently failed to mobilize their members, though.

The three men who will represent the EU at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Monday were aware of the protests against their prize, and that it was being awarded in a country that twice has refused to join the EU. Opposition to membership in the EU is currently so high that even the group traditionally promoting it, Europabevegelsen, has all but given up. It will now focus on other issues tied to European cooperation. A recent survey of Norwegian business leaders also indicated that they’re more skeptical about joining the EU too, not least because they’re so nervous over the EU’s common currency crisis. The non-socialist opposition parties in parliament, meanwhile, have no intention of trying to promote EU membership in next year’s election campaigns.

Still welcome
Martin Schulz, president of the EU Parliament and one of the three EU leaders in Oslo to receive the Peace Prize, made it clear the EU would still welcome Norway as a member with open arms if sentiment shifts. So did EU President Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, at a press conference in Oslo Sunday afternoon.

Van Rompuy, who described himself as both Flemish and Belgian as well as European, also noted that Norwegians needn’t fear losing their own identity if they were to join the EU. He and his colleagues Barroso of Portugal and Schulz of Germany said it’s very important for member countries to maintain their national identities, adding that they think Norwegians already share EU values regarding democracy and human rights. Schulz even spoke of the need for “more democracy, more transparency, more openness,” almost exactly the same words Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg used in the aftermath of last year’s terrorist attacks in Norway.

Barroso further noted that Norway, as a top trading partner with the EU, is “in many ways more integrated into the EU than some EU member nations,” because of its adherence to its agreement that regulates trade and other economic relations between the EU and the European Free Trade Association, of which Norway is a member.

All claimed they nonetheless “respected” Norway’s decision to stay outside the EU, and felt Norway was part of the “EU family” anyway. “We share something,” Van Rompuy said, before he, Barroso and Schulz settled in to a private dinner with members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Sunday night. That may also explain why relatively few turned up to bash Norway’s EU guests outside the hotel where the dinner was being held.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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