Many tipped to be new Nobel leader

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A few former foreign ministers and at least one ex-prime minister are among the names being tossed about to replace Thorbjørn Jagland as head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The committee itself elects its leader, but its political make-up changed in last year’s election and Jagland’s chances of continuing are slim.

Thorbjørn Jagland's future as chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee remains in doubt. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Thorbjørn Jagland’s future as chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee remains in doubt. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

As reported earlier this year, Jagland’s future as chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is tenuous at best. He was appointed to the committee, which is supposed to reflect the composition of the Norwegian Parliament under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, back in 2009 by his Labour Party after Jagland’s term as president of the Parliament expired.

His appointment was controversial from the beginning, not only because Jagland had been caught in Labour Party power struggles but because he already was campaigning and shortly thereafter was elected as secretary general of the Council of Europe. Jagland has never seen a problem with his dual roles on the Council and the Nobel Committee, but that only means he “doesn’t understand” the potential conflicts of interest that can lie within them, editorialized newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Tuesday. In June Jagland was re-elected to lead the Council of Europe, putting him at the heart not least of conflicts between Russia and Ukraine. DN argues that now disqualifies him from also being the person who ceremonially hands out the Nobel Peace Prize, which likely could go to human rights advocates who could be considered enemies of either country.

Speculation has thus risen that Jagland will be replaced as chairman, and not because of any pressure from Chinese authorities whose pride was famously wounded when Jagland announced the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. Instead, both Jagland and the Conservatives’ own Kaci Kullman Five are routinely up for re-election this year and the Socialist Left party (SV) lost its seat on the five-member committee because of last fall’s election results. That means the Conservatives will now get two seats on the committee, its government partner The Progress Party will retain its seat, and Labour will retain its two seats. Labour’s other appointment, lawyer Berit Reiss-Andersen, is not up for re-election.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik now runs The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. He was among those being questioned in Parliament on Monday over why Norway was so poorly prepared for last year's terrorist attack. PHOTO: oslocenter.no

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik now runs The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, and is tipped as a possible new chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.  PHOTO: oslocenter.no

Both Jagland and Five can thus presumably be replaced, with Trond Helleland of the Conservatives saying not even Five is secure in her post. “She has said she would like to continue and that’s a signal, but we’re not at the point of discussing any concrete names,” Helleland told news bureau NTB. “We’re going into this process with an open mind regarding names, qualifications and background.”

Jagland remains Labour’s appointment and Five may survive, but the committee now has a conservative majority, meaning its members can vote him out as chairman. Kristian Norheim, foreign policy spokesman for the Progress Party, has already said that he thinks Jagland should be replaced because of his role at the Council of Europe.

Other names being floated as the Conservatives’ candidate to both fill SV’s post and take over for Jagland include Jan Petersen, a former leader of the Conservative Party and foreign minister who most recently has served as Norway’s ambassador to Austria. Other names include two former politicians from the government’s support party, the Christian Democrats: Former Foreign Minister and Norwegian ambassador to the US, Knut Vollebæk, and former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. Both have been active peace brokers, with Vollebæk also once heading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and known for his proficiency in several foreign languages. Bondevik lacks the latter talent but has emerged since leaving politics as a human rights leader and active peace negotiator through his Oslo-based peace center.

Calls continue to go out, though, for the addition of more committee members from outside Norwegian politics, to further distance the autonomous committee from any semblance of ties to the Norwegian government. That leaves the field wide open to other candidates as well, who need to be named this fall to take over terms beginning January 1.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund