Berit Reiss-Andersen, who took over as leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee just a few months ago, may have carried out her first and last announcement of who the committee chose to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s up for re-election this fall, along with two other committee members.
Reiss-Andersen, a 63-year-old Norwegian attorney, officially took over as leader of the committee following the death in February of Kaci Kullmann Five, who had chaired the prestigious five-member group for the past two years. Five, who died after a long battle with cancer, had initially been appointed to the committee by Norway’s Conservative Party, for which she’d been a former party leader and government minister.
Reiss-Andersen, who had no active political background, was one of the Labour Party’s choices for the committee, which, under the terms of prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will, is supposed to reflect the make-up of the Norwegian Parliament. Many had assumed that Five would be replaced by someone chosen by the Conservatives, but since Reiss-Andersen was deputy leader when Five died, she rose to the top position. Her vacancy triggered the addition of a reserve member who also had been chosen by Labour.
That has left the current committee made up of three members chosen by Labour (Reiss-Andersen, Thorbjørn Jagland and reserve member Tone Jørstad), one member chosen by the Conservatives (Henrik Syse) and one chosen and reappointed by the conservative Progress Party, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn. All members are officially elected to their positions by the Parliament.
The committee’s current composition does not reflect the make-up of Parliament following the most recent election, which left the Conservatives and Progress leading a minority government with some promised, but not formal, support from the non-socialist Liberal and Christian Democrats parties. With three committee seats up for election (Reiss-Andersen’s, Ytterhorn’s and Jørstad’s) new appointments must leave the committee with three members chosen by conservative parties and two from Labour.
If Labour asks Reiss-Andersen, who won good reviews for her presentation of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner on Friday, to continue and she agrees, Jørstad will be replaced by someone chosen by the Conservatives. Newspaper Aftenposten reports that a top candidate is Jan Petersen, Norway’s newly retired ambassador to Austria who formerly served as a party leader and foreign minister for the Conservatives.
It’s unclear whether Reiss-Andersen, who maintains an active legal career, wants to remain as Nobel Committee leader. “I won’t declare my candidacy in advance,” she told Aftenposten, “but if the Parliament asks me, I will give them an answer.”
Nor is it clear whether Ytterhorn, age 76, will continue on the committee for another four years. “I don’t know,” she told Aftenposten. “I’ll answer when the matter comes up.” Her spot on the committe would at any rate be filled by someone chosen by the Progress Party. It’s been speculated that Syse, the youngest member of the committee at age 51, will take over as committee leader since the Conservatives now wield power in Parliament but committee members choose their own leader themselves.
There have been efforts in recent years to appoint more committee members who are not former politicians, in order to reinforce its role as independent of the government. Neither the government nor Parliament have any say in Peace Prize winners, or are privvy to committee discussions.