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EUROPEAN UNION

Peace committee ‘ignoring Nobel’s wishes’

On the eve of the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, The Local catches up with Norwegian lawyer and Nobel historian Fredrik S. Heffermehl, who claims the Norwegian Nobel Committee isn't following Alfred Nobel's wishes.

Peace committee 'ignoring Nobel's wishes'
Fredrik Heffermehl and his book, The Nobel Peace Prize - The Vision that Vanished (Photo: Leopard Förlag).

For years, Heffermehl has been writing books and penning opinion pieces in the Norwegian media arguing that the country's Nobel Committee, in charge of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize each year, is failing to follow the last will and testament of the Swedish industrialist whose fortune served as the basis for the prize.

Nobel's will states that the prize should be given to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

But in awarding the prize to politicians such as Barack Obama, Henry Kissinger or even Al Gore, whose work is with the environment and not peace and disarmament, the committee has failed to adhere to the will of the deceased benefactor, Heffermehl argues.

In the run up to this year’s peace prize announcement, set to take place on Friday in Oslo, The Local checked in with Heffermehl to hear his thoughts on the problem.

The Local: What is wrong with the current selection process for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Fredrik Heffermehl: In the beginning, the Norwegian politicians, whose job it is to select the Nobel Committee, were eager to find the right peace-minded individuals working for a global peace order, which is what Nobel wanted to support.

But sometime after 1948, in the wake of the Second World War, this eagerness dissipated. Today, the Committee is very different and I would say consists of Norwegian politicians who accept a world system of competing military forces, the direct opposite of the core purpose of Nobel's Peace Prize: to support a new system and efforts for global cooperation on demilitarization of international affairs – the global peace order that Nobel described in his will.

I have been saying for more than five years in books and articles that Nobel’s will and purpose must be respected. But the Nobel Committee does not want to enter into this discussion.

TL: Why is that, do you think?

FH: The military sector in Norway was and is a strong sector and the reality today is that a majority of politicians favouring a strong military defence are in control of a prize which was initially meant for their opponents.

TL: What happens now?

FH: Well, they can’t ignore Nobel forever. In fact it has been the shock of my life to see such blatant disrespect of someone’s last will and testament. I have had support from some very high-ranking people in Norway, but this is in private; no one dares to come out and say it in public. It says something about the political climate that no one wants to stick their neck out.

TL: What has the Stockholm County Administrative Board (Länsstyrelsen) – tasked with ensuring that foundations created by wills such as Nobel's follow their statutes – done?

FH: They were also reluctant to stick their neck out. It took four years to get them to act. I knew that they would have to agree with my point. It is elementary really. The whole purpose of a testament is that the testator’s will has to be followed and cannot be changed after his death. The authority would have to confirm my view. I put pressure on them but they tried to evade the question for years.

It even had to be taken to the administrative court, but I am very happy with the outcome. A decision was passed that confirmed entirely that the prizes must comply with the purpose described by the testator.

But the authority was very diplomatic, its decision did not criticize anything that has happened in the past, it only gave directions for the future.

TL: What needs to be done about it, in your opinion?

FH: There really has never been a proper discussion. They are reluctant to answer these questions because if they enter into the discussion they will be forced to select members for the committee who are actually in favour of a global peace order – as Nobel was.

After the Swedish decision the Norwegian politicians must reconsider the situation and determine what the purpose of the prize really is and whether they are qualified and willing to continue selecting the five-member Nobel Committees.

They must ask themselves the following questions: "Should we, can we still have this role?"; "How have the committees fulfilled the mandate in the past?"; and "Is it possible for Norway's Parliament to be loyal to Nobel and can official Norway continue to select the trustees of a private Swedish foundation in the future – to implement a peace vision that Parliament is directly opposed to?"

TL: So, who do you think will win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize?

FH: To be honest, I feel less interested every year – the prizes have less and less to do with Nobel. The politicians are using Nobel’s name to promote their own ideas, they do not understand that Nobel saw the costly and dangerous threat to human survival that would develop if the world failed to curb militarism. His desire for a global peace order is a much more urgent, mandatory need today than when he wrote his will.

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EUROPEAN UNION

Norway flirts with the idea of a ‘mini Brexit’ in election campaign

On paper, Norway's election on Monday looks like it could cool Oslo's relationship with the European Union but analysts say that appearances may be deceiving.

Norway flirts with the idea of a 'mini Brexit' in election campaign
The Centre Party's leader Slagsvold Vedum has called for Norway's relationship with the European Union to be renegotiated. Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB / AFP

After eight years of a pro-European centre-right government, polls suggest the Scandinavian country is headed for a change of administration.

A left-green coalition in some shape or form is expected to emerge victorious, with the main opposition Labour Party relying on the backing of several eurosceptic parties to obtain a majority in parliament.

In its remote corner of Europe, Norway is not a member of the EU but it is closely linked to the bloc through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.

The deal gives Norway access to the common market in exchange for the adoption of most European directives.

Both the Centre Party and the Socialist Left — the Labour Party’s closest allies, which together have around 20 percent of voter support — have called for the marriage of convenience to be dissolved.

“The problem with the agreement we have today is that we gradually transfer more and more power from the Storting (Norway’s parliament), from Norwegian lawmakers to the bureaucrats in Brussels who are not accountable,” Centre Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum said in a recent televised debate.

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Defending the interests of its rural base, the Centre Party wants to replace the EEA with trade and cooperation agreements.

However, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store, who is expected to become the next prime minister, does not want to jeopardise the country’s ties to the EU, by far Norway’s biggest trading partner.

“If I go to my wife and say ‘Look, we’ve been married for years and things are pretty good, but now I want to look around to see if there are any other options out there’… Nobody (in Brussels) is going to pick up the phone” and be willing to renegotiate the terms, Gahr Store said in the same debate.

Running with the same metaphor, Slagsvold Vedum snapped back: “If your wife were riding roughshod over you every day, maybe you would react.”

EU a ‘tough negotiating partner’

Initially, Brexit gave Norwegian eurosceptics a whiff of hope. But the difficulties in untangling British-EU ties put a damper on things.

“In Norway, we saw that the EU is a very tough negotiating partner and even a big country like Britain did not manage to win very much in its negotiations,” said Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

While Norwegians have rejected EU membership twice, in referendums in 1972 and 1994, a majority are in favour of the current EEA agreement.

During the election campaign, the EU issue has gradually been pushed to the back burner as the Centre Party — which briefly led in the polls — has seen its support deflate.

The nature of Norway’s relationship to the bloc will depend on the distribution of seats in parliament, but experts generally agree that little is likely to change.

“The Labour Party will surely be firm about the need to maintain the EEA agreement,” said Johannes Bergh, political scientist at the Institute for Social Research, “even if that means making concessions to the other parties in other areas”.

Closer cooperation over climate?

It’s possible that common issues, like the fight against climate change, could in fact bring Norway and the EU even closer.

“Cooperation with the EU will very likely become stronger because of the climate issue” which “could become a source of friction” within the next coalition, Sverdrup suggested.

“Even though the past 25 years have been a period of increasingly close cooperation, and though we can therefore expect that it will probably continue, there are still question marks” surrounding Norway’s future ties to the EU, he said.

These likely include the inclusion and strength of eurosceptics within the future government as well as the ability of coalition partners to agree on all EU-related issues.

Meanwhile, Brussels is looking on cautiously. The EEA agreement is “fundamental” for relations between the EU and its
partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, according to EU spokesman Peter Stano.

But when it comes to the rest, “we do not speculate on possible election outcomes nor do we comment on different party positions.”

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