OSLO (Reuters) - Some of the fiercest objections to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union on Friday came from Norway, home of the prize.
The country is not in the European Union and voted twice against joining. Friday’s announcement reopened political divisions and prompted calls for a review of how the committee that chooses the laureates is appointed.
“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 said.
The five-member Nobel committee, led by former Labour prime minister Thorbjoern Jagland who favors EU membership, said the 27-nation group had transformed Europe from “a continent of war to a continent of peace”.
He said the award, by a Nobel committee that lacks a strong anti-EU voice because of a long-term illness of one member, was a reminder of the EU’s role in peace and democracy despite its current debt crisis.
In referendums in 1972 and 1994, the “No” side successfully argued that the EU would undermine Norwegian independence, won only in 1905 from Sweden. Rich from oil and gas, Norway has prospered alone and polls today show overwhelming opposition to EU membership.
“This year’s prize is totally absurd,” said Kjersti Storroesten, spokesperson for the “No to the EU” organisation. “The EU has little to show for itself in terms of peace.”
Jagland, who is also Secretary-General of the 47-member Council of Europe, told Reuters: “There will surely be a debate, especially here in Norway. The best Nobel prizes are those that cause debate.”
“There is increased extremism, and nationalism, in Europe, and we have to take care of these institutions we have created,” he said of the EU.
The opposition Conservative Party, which also backs EU membership for Norway, welcomed the prize but said the decision to give a prize in 2012 was surprising because of the EU’s economic woes.
“Membership is not currently being discussed in Norway, so it’s not a hot political topic. That could make this the right time to show generosity,” Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg said.
Norway, which has a $650 billion sovereign fund -- $130,000 for each of its 5 million people -- is the economic opposite to many indebted EU economies thanks to its offshore oil wealth.
Unemployment is 3 percent, growth is strong, it has no net debt and the oil fund equals 135 percent of gross domestic product.
Analysts also forecast a debate about how the committee is appointed. Members are named for six-years by parties in parliament, based on their strength at the last election, and are meant to be independent.
Chaudhry of the Socialist Party said the all-Norwegian committee should be widened to other nationalities. “Peace for a mother in Afghanistan is something entirely different than peace for a mother in Oslo,” he said.
“I think that it will stir a debate about the mechanisms by which the members of the committee are appointed,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the Peace Research Institute, Oslo.
He noted that the most vociferous opponent of the EU on the committee, Aagot Valle of the Socialist Party, is on long-term sick leave.
“She had nothing to do with the prize,” Valle’s husband Yngve Seteraas, reached by telephone, told Reuters. He dismissed rumors that she had decided to quit the committee, saying: “she hasn’t said that.” No member has quit in protest since 1994.
Valle’s place this year has been filled by Gunnar Staalsett, a former bishop of Oslo who is a moderate member of the anti-EU Center Party. The other four members are from parties that urged a “Yes” in the 1994 referendum.
Harpviken said Valle’s instructions when she joined the committee included opposing any prize to the EU.
“The award of the prize will stir a massive controversy in Norway,” he said. “Many politicians here would see this as undue meddling in the internal affairs of Norway by the Nobel Committee.”
Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by Philippa Fletcher