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Latest update : 2012-10-12

Norwegians and EU citizens alike were surprised by the Oslo-based Nobel Committee’s decision to award the European Union the 2012 peace prize. But as it emerged on Friday, the choice might never have been made if it wasn’t for one member’s illness.

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union could easily be described as out-of-character for the continent’s most eurosceptic nation and one of the few countries in Europe that does not actually belong to the 27-nation bloc.

But that might be because the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides on the peace prize each year, was missing its in-house eurosceptic this week due to illness. With a less stringent replacement, the remaining members of the group – who have been musing an EU award for some time – saw their chance.

The in-house europhobe in question, Aagot Valle, joined the committee in 2009 with a pledge that she would never allow the peace prize to be awarded to the European Union.

If Valle had been present, she would certainly have vetoed the motion, French Nobel expert Jacob Antoine told Le on Friday.

Instead, Valle went on long-term sick leave at the last minute. She was replaced by Gunnar Staalsett, a former bishop of Oslo and a moderate member of the Center Party. As the most eurosceptic of the group, he was nonetheless a feeble match for the four remaining members, all of whom voted yes to joining the EU in a 1994 referendum, and whose leader, Thorbjoern Jagland, is Secretary-General of the 47-member Council of Europe.

While the cat’s away…

Friday’s decision raised questions in Norway over the political ethics of the Nobel committee, which is seen as largely unrepresentative of the general public, 53% of which voted no to joining the EU in a 1972 referendum and 52% of which refused again in 1994.

“The award of the prize will stir a massive controversy in Norway,” Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the Oslo-based Peace Research Institute, told Reuters on Friday. “Many politicians here would see this as undue meddling in the internal affairs of Norway by the Nobel Committee.”

The choice also prompted calls for a review of how the committee that chooses the laureates is appointed. Norwegian Nobel Committee members, who have been deciding on the peace prize winner for well over a century, are appointed by the Norwegian Parliament through a representative vote.

But some parliamentarians deem the system biased.

“The Nobel Committee shows itself as being out of step with the Norwegian people,” said Akhtar Chaudhry, a vice-president of parliament and a member of the Socialist Party, which opposes EU membership for Norway. “The Norwegian people have rejected the EU as a concept, but yet we reward it with a Nobel Peace Prize,” he told Reuters.

Loaded with oil and gas, Norway has prospered alongside its European neighbours, with only 3% unemployment and some of the highest living standards on the continent.

Valle, whose voice would have been instrumental in this year’s choice of 231 candidates, has yet to comment on Friday’s announcement. Her husband, Yngve Seteraas, told Reuters that she had “nothing to do with the prize”. He also dismissed rumours that she had decided to quit the committee.


Date created : 2012-10-12


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