Ashton declines MEP's appeal on Nobel gala

08.12.10 @ 17:41

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton has brushed aside calls by a leading MEP for her to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Friday (10 December) in defiance of Chinese diplomacy.

  • The prize ceremony in Oslo City Hall in 2007 (Photo: EUobserver)

"Neither the High Representative/Vice President nor both presidents have been specifically invited. The EU will be represented in the normal way by the EU head of delegation who will be accompanied by all 27 EU ambassadors [to Norway]. This was agreed by all the member states and this is the normal position," Ms Ashton's spokesman Darren Ennis told EUobserver on Wednesday, referring also to EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The statement comes in response to a call by the co-leader of the Green group in the EU parliament, French MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, for Ms Ashton to show support to the winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

"If Ms Ashton says she wants to participate in the Nobel prize ceremony, the government in Oslo will not deny her entry to the country nor will the Nobel Prize Committee leave her standing out in the cold. It's a question of her will to go and to make a gesture that Europe stands for human rights and freedom of expression," he said in a riposte to the Ashton line.

The Norwegian Nobel Institute on Tuesday noted that 44 embassies have so far said they will send delegates to the gala, 19 embassies have declined invitations and two have not yet replied.

The 19 refuseniks are: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi-Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco. Algeria and Sri Lanka are yet to confirm.

The European Commission on Wednesday said that it is "very disappointed" that Serbia, an EU applicant country, has chosen to align itself with countries such as Cuba and Iran against the joint EU line.

"We expect that a country which has the aspiration of joining the EU to fully share the values of the EU, and protection of human rights is one of the fundamental values of the EU, so we would expect Serbia to co-ordinate its position with that of our member states," commission spokeswoman Angela Filote said.

She added that enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele will meet with the Serbian prime minister on Thursday and that the issue is likely to come up. "We are going to speak with our counterparts to see if there is a possibility of a different decision," she said.

Ukraine, another pro-China country on the Nobel issue, is also an EU aspirant nation according to the statements of its President Viktor Yanukovych. It does not have EU candidate status, however.

China back in November sent letters to all the EU delegations in Oslo urging them to boycott the ceremony. High officials have in recent weeks also warned there would be "consequences' for countries that refuse to toe the line and called the Nobel committee "clowns."

China is the EU's largest trade partner after the US, with bilateral trade worth €82 billion a year. The EU, in the so-called E3+3 diplomatic group on Iran, is also seeking Chinese backing for potentially extending economic sanctions against Teheran if it does not back down on its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Ms Ashton and envoys from the E3+3 group in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday held "detailed substantive" talks with Iran on the nuclear issue and agreed to meet again in Istanbul in January.