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Norwegian protesters say EU Nobel Peace Prize win devalues award

More than 50 organizations plan to march in Oslo on Sunday to protest of the Nobel Committee's award of the 2012 Peace Prize to the EU at a time of debt crisis.

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The award to the EU is not the first time the prize has attracted controversy, nor the first that has set the Nobel Committee at odds with the Norwegian government, from which it is independent.

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The Norwegian Peace Council also organized a protest march in 2009, when several thousand marched in Oslo against the Nobel Peace Prize award to US President Obama because of the US engagement in two military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Geir Lundestad, the Norwegian Nobel Committee secretary, one of the most notable peace prize dilemmas was in 1936, when German pacifist Carl Von Ossietzky's controversial nomination and win prompted Norwegian Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht to resign as leader of the Nobel Committee and Norwegian King Haakon to skip the prize ceremony on Mr. Koht's advice. Another case was the resignation of Christian Democrat Kåre Kristiansen from the Nobel Committee over the awarding of the 1994 prize to Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres.

Political award?

This year’s award, however, poses a particular problem for the government Center Party, which helped sway Norwegians twice to vote down EU membership during the 1972 and 1994 referendums. The party’s key government ministers have signaled they would prioritize other appointments the day of the ceremony, although there is pressure now for them to show at Oslo City Hall to avoid the Peace Prize being seen as a political award.

Critics have pointed out how the Chinese government viewed the attendance of Norwegian officials at the 2010 award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as political support for the decision, souring Sino-Norwegian relations. (Read more about which countries refused to attend the award ceremony last year)

Despite the protests and absentees, the EU will have many well-wishers that day, many of them high-profiled. Among the hundreds expected to fill the seats of Oslo City Hall will include at least 18 top leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Later that night, the European Movement in Norway will arrange the traditional torch-lit procession in honor of the laureates, who will wave from the balcony of the Grand Hotel. Christian Pollock Fjellstad, the European Movement political adviser, says it has ordered a thousand torches, but expects even more to attend.

Ambassador Herman will be among the well wishers that day. But he acknowledges that relations between Norway and the EU are mildly strained after the Norwegian government recently imposed a number of tolls against EU cheeses, such as Dutch Gouda. Herman contends that the protectionist measure goes against the intention of the EEA agreement to work toward market liberalization, and says the two sides are in dialogue in the hopes that the toll will be revoked.

“I won’t be saying cheese for the camera,” he quips.

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