Stoltenberg met EU leaders alone

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Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had the company of EU leaders and those heading EU member governments mostly to himself this week, after his own government coalition partners declined to attend meetings with the EU winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. One of Stoltenberg’s partners was being accused on Tuesday of using the Peace Prize for her own political gain.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center) had another meeting on Tuesday with Martin Schulz (left), president of the European Parliament, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Per Thrana

Liv Signe Navarsete, leader of the anti-EU Center Party, has harshly criticized the prize to the EU, claiming the EU wasn’t a worthy winner. She later insisted she wasn’t boycotting Nobel Peace Prize festivities, in which nearly all top Norwegian politicians traditionally take part, but she carried through with her decision not to even attend the prize ceremony in Oslo’s City Hall on Monday. Only one government minister from her party showed up, and only after their party’s snub was roundly criticized itself last week.

Navarsete’s other anti-EU government colleagues from the Socialist Left party (SV) and even those who oppose the EU within Stoltenberg’s Labour Party didn’t share Navarsete’s position on the issue. They did attend the ceremony despite their objections to the EU, out of respect for the prize.

Stoltenberg had some time alone with Barroso and Schulz, as he did with other leaders of EU governments who were in Oslo to see the EU win the Nobel Peace Prize. Stoltenberg’s own coalition government partner, the Center Party, caught criticism for staying away from the Nobel festivities and top meetings, in an apparent effort to promote its opposition to the EU. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Per Thrana

Navarsete was the target of more criticism on Tuesday, for also staying away from a “working lunch” Stoltenberg organized after the ceremony for the presidents of the three EU institutions who formally accepted the prize and the presidents and prime ministers of around 18 EU member nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. Nor did Navarsete attend the Nobel Banquet or another meeting Stoltenberg had with Martin Schulz, the president of the EU Parliament, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission on Tuesday.

While Merkel, Hollande and Monti may not have missed Navarsete, her absence did not go unnoticed by fellow Norwegian politicians and analysts. “”When we see the strong protests from the Center Party over the Peace Prize, it’s easy to think that the party is using this issue to launch its own election campaign,” Professor Frank Aarebrot, an election researcher,  told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “It’s clear that the party has a voter strategy, to make its mark as the most EU-skeptical party, and more skeptical than SV.” While SV didn’t attend Stoltenberg’s meetings with EU leaders either, it made a point of not avoiding the Peace Prize ceremony for the EU.

Stoltenberg and the two EU leaders were later joined by various aides and staffers, including the EU’s ambassador to Norway, Janos Herman. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Per Thrana

Aarebrot noted that both the Center Party and SV “fish in the same waters” for voters who still view the EU as a threat even though Norway is not a member. Both parties have also lost so much voter support recently that they’re dangerously close to losing representation in Parliament. That can explain why Navarsete has made such an issue of the Peace Prize for the EU.

Others view her opposition and behaviour as “provincial,” certainly not in the spirit of cooperation, and as a missed opportunity to mingle with some of the most powerful people on the European continent. DN reported how her party late as 2007 also had agreed, through a government declaration on the EU, that the EU “had played an important, stabilizing role in Europe during the past half-century” and had contributed towards economic development, contact among peoples and promotion of democracy. That made Navarsete’s vehement objections to the Peace Prize seem hypocritical as well.

“The difference between what the party agreed to in 2007 and its condemnation of the Peace Prize now shows that the Center Party is trying exploit the Peace Prize for its own advantage,” Anette Trettebergstuen of Labour told DN. “It defies history for the Center Party to now claim the EU is not a worthy winner.”

Erna Solberg, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, also chided the Center Party’s behaviour, saying that in 2007, she thought both SV and the Center Party were showing responsibility for sitting in government and acknowledging the importance of the EU, even though they opposed joining,” Solberg told DN. “Now it looks like they want to want to dust off the anti-EU campaign (to win votes).”

Stoltenberg hosted alone
This all left Stoltenberg representing Norway’s government alone when he welcomed all the EU leaders to Oslo. He, at least, was keen to make the most of the rare opportunity for both joint and bilateral talks with so many EU leaders in town. He invited for another meal on Tuesday, telling Barroso and Schulz how important it was for Norway to have “good contact” with both the EU Commission and the EU Parliament.

Stoltenberg also stressed that Norway supports the EU’s efforts to promote European solidarity and economic growth, especially in light of the current financial crisis and especially since the EU is Norway’s largest trading partner.

“Norway and the EU share European history and geography, we have common fundamental values tied to democracy and the rule of law,” Stoltenberg told them on Tuesday. “It’s natural and important to have close and good cooperation between Norway and the EU in many areas.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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