Nobel Committee says Yes, but it's 'nul points' from people of Norway
THERE was a decided air of irony surrounding the arrival of a troika of the EU's chief poobahs into Oslo yesterday, for Norway is a country with a long-held aversion to the EU.
The EU chiefs may be in town for the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, but Norway nonetheless regards it with the sort of suspicion usually reserved for chaps flogging phials of snake-oil from a tatty suitcase.
Twice – in 1972 and 1994 – the country rejected referendums to join the EU hooley. And has Norway been thus left in the economic cold? Has it hell.
The temperature at the weekend might have been a bone-chilling -12C, but the economy is smoking hot.
Thanks to oodles of natural resources – petrol, gas and minerals, plus a national mindset which essentially votes into the power the most frugal party that promises to spend the least amount of money – Norway is loaded.
Its national piggy-banks are bulging with loot, making it the second-wealthiest country in the world in monetary value. It has the second-highest GDP per capita in the world, and its unemployment rate is a lowly 2.6pc. Taxes may be punitive and the cost of living sky-high, but health care and education are virtually free.
So, given the ongoing knife-fights in Brussels over how to deal with the savage recession which lies like an iron blanket over most (if not all) of the 27 member countries, it's no wonder that Norwegians want no truck with the EU – although, thanks to various economic agreements, the country enjoys quite a few of its single market trade perks.
Moreover, there are many folks outside Norway who are still scratching their heads over the decision to award the peace prize to the EU.
Although 20 European leaders are attending today's ceremony, including the Taoiseach, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, others have declined.
But the bemusement of the host country didn't appear to dim in the slightest the enthusiasm of the three EU bigwigs who arrived into the Nobel Institute for a pre-ceremony press conference yesterday afternoon.
Broad smiles bedecked the faces of European Council President, Herman van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz as they took their seats along the Nobel Committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, on the podium.
Although this is the trio who will collect the €1.2m prize on behalf of the European Union's 500 million citizens today, chances are that few of these 500 million could identify any of them in a line-up.
However, they all supported the decision to award the gong to the EU – and argued that, if anything, the member countries should be bound even more closely together to prevent a recurrence of the crisis.
Mr Barroso acknowledged that the current turmoil showed the union was "not fully equipped to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. We do not have all the instruments for a true and genuine economic union ... so we need to complete our economic and monetary union".
He stressed that, despite the crisis, all steps taken had been toward "more, not less integration".
And when asked how could Norwegians be tempted by the siren-call of Brussels, Martin Schulz quipped: "That's one of our long-term challenges."
But he then added that critics of the EU "are right" to question it, although anyone who said it threatened national identities was "absolutely wrong".
And Herman van Rompuy had even penned a haiku (a mercifully brief Japanese poem) for the solemn occasion that was in it and, without a hint of bashfulness, read it out.
"After war came peace/ Fulfilling the oldest wish/ Nobel's dream come true," he recited.
Twice. Beside him, a grinning, blushing Barroso was tickled pink. Or maybe he was just morto.
And the trio were also asked their opinions on a protest march that was to take place later that evening, organised by a variety of groups opposed to the award.
"I respect all opinions, freedom of opinion is a sacred principle," said Mr Barroso diplomatically.
A few hours later, a few hundred people gathered in the bitter cold under a banner which read, 'No Peace Prize For Our Time', to make a torchlight procession past the hotel where the EU officials were staying.
Among them was Oslo woman Elsa Ender, who is one of a group called Grandmothers for Peace.
"We do not think the EU are worthy winners," she explained. "The Nobel Prize is supposed to be given to those who work for disarmament, but the EU are warmongers".
So it's No Way from Norway. It looks like Herman might need a longer haiku.