25th Oct 2016

Six EU leaders to skip Nobel gala

  • Nobel do - the EU award continues to stir debate (Photo: EUobserver)

Six EU leaders, including the UK, are to skip the Nobel gala next month, as criticism of the award multiplies.

Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad told EUobserver on Friday (30 November) that 18 EU leaders will come to watch the Union's top three officials - Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and Martin Schulz - collect the peace prize in Oslo on 10 December.

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He declined to list them. But he indicated that they include the "big" countries - France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.

He said six others - including the Czech republic, Sweden and the UK - have confirmed they are not going, while the rest are still making up their mind.

The British and Czech decisions come from two eurosceptic VIPs - David Cameron and Vaclav Klaus - and are likely to fuel talk on whether Cameron thinks the UK is on its way out of the bloc.

Sweden's Frederik Reinfeldt cannot go because he is busy in a parallel Nobel event in Stockholm the same day.

Lundestad declined to speculate on whether Cameron and Klaus' decision amounts to a boycott. "It's up to them to explain why they are not coming," he said.

But he did criticise four cabinet ministers from Norway's eurosceptic Centre Party for also deciding to stay away.

"They put the emphasis on Norway and whether Norway should be a member of the EU or not. The committee does not address that question. It recognises the EU's contribution to a more peaceful Europe through six decades. It has nothing to do with Norway," he noted.

The Nobel decision back in October prompted debate on whether the EU deserves the prize.

Some of the arguments were repeated this week.

For his part, the Austrian leader of the centre-left S&D group in the EU parliament, Hannes Swoboda, said in a debate in Brussels: "The EU was a vision for peace, after WWII. And the EU brought peace."

But a joint letter by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches said: "The economic and humanitarian tragedy today in Greece challenges the EU as a peace builder for the next generation."

Meanwhile, the recent Gaza crisis - which claimed 168 Palestinian lives and five Israeli ones - prompted a fresh rebuke.

A joint letter by 52 former peace prize laureates, artists, academics and diplomats on Wednesday said the EU should be disqualified for its ties to Israel.

"The role of the European Union must not go unnoticed, in particular its hefty subsidies to Israel's military complex through its research programmes," they wrote.

Former Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Perez Esquivel also wrote a letter attacking the EU as a party in conflicts around the world.

"The EU is clearly not 'the champion of peace' that Alfred Nobel had in mind when he wrote his will ... The Norwegian Nobel committee has redefined and remodelled the prize in a manner that is not consistent with the law," they said.

They called for the committee to withhold the prize money of €930,000, even though the EU has promised to give it to charities for child victims of war.

For his part, Lundestad said the Tutu letter was organised by Fredrik Heffermehl, a Norwegian jurist who has "protested for many, many years against every decision of the Nobel committee."

He added: "The prize money has never been withheld."

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