10 Dec 2012

If Norway likes the EU so much, why doesn’t it live there?

The head of the Norwegian Nobel peace prize committee hasn’t really answered that question. But Thorbjorn Jagland’s praised the EU’s contribution to human rights, peace and democracy anyway. You feel here in Oslo that the EU, in the midst of a pretty horrendous economic crisis, has grabbed this moment with both hands.

The three presidents – presidents of the commission, the European Council and the parliament – look like the three tenors on the platform, grinning from ear to ear.

Just before the three presidents picked up the ultimate international back-slap, there was musical entertainment from a folk combo singing “Europe, in you there is something that is cheering me up” with percussion provided by a man slapping his face and thighs.

One of those applauding that unlikely combo was Mario Monti. His resignation as Italian PM potentially casts another shadow over the eurozone’s attempts to save itself and is a reminder of how shocks could still throw the relative mid-crisis calm back into full-scale tailspin crisis mode.

When David Cameron was asked in October who should pick up the Nobel peace prize on behalf of the EU, he said he certainly wasn’t going and schoolchildren should go. In the end he sent Nick Clegg – not a joke at his expense, the DPM told me in Oslo.

Nick Clegg arrives here just as his coalition partner is starting work in earnest on a long-promised speech about how he sees Europe. In fact, this speech was originally promised for this January. It’s approaching its first anniversary and it hasn’t even been given.

Why the delay? It is momentous “big leap” stuff. David Cameron will say he is demanding repatriated powers for a redesigned UK membership which would then be put to the British people in a referendum.

But his critics, including Nick Clegg and Tony Blair, say he won’t get major powers back so the whole plan could collapse into a referendum on unreformed membership, something polls suggest is getting more and more unpopular with UK voters.

Anyway this day of ceremony and eulogies has given EU leaders a rare happy occasion to celebrate the institution’s early inspiration and achievements. In the margins, there are much more prosaic cash-focused bilaterals aimed at trying to sort out this week’s EU summit on banking union and the deals to be brokered still on the EU budget. EU countries are inter-twining these negotiations.

There may be little real progress this week in Brussels on banking – that’s certainly the UK’s expectation. But the jaw-jaw carries on… The message in Oslo ringing out from the speeches is that it’s mind-numbing, often raucous, regularly mistaken – but so much better than war.

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12 reader comments

  1. Andy says:

    just give us an in/out vote, then we can get out and let europe finish its self off

  2. Philip says:

    But first, let’s have a proper debate with independently verified facts & figures instead of the regular drip of anti-EU poison from the Murdoch & reactionary press -which is frequently false, misleading or spun to make the EU look a lot worse than it is. I’m not saying it doesn’t need reform, but those who want the UK out strike me as living in a world only visible through rose-tinted spectacles.

  3. Alison Peacock says:

    I wholeheartedly thank the EU and the work of its founders, that no European child will have the experiences some of us had of war in our own cities.
    The knowledge of their determination to cooperate (no matter how difficult), has hugely helped me deal with the loss of my own father and knowledge of his horrendous death.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Alison, I’ve similar experiences and honour your comment.
      Europe has now been at peace for 60+ years since the European Coal & Steel Community was founded as a first step towards making war impossible. The previous history was of perpetual wars in some part or other of Europe. Often several simultaneous wars in different parts of our murderous continent.
      Peace at last! Thank heavens we’ve got peace at last!

  4. Steve says:

    Why can’t we be like Norway? Out of the EU. Out of the ECHR. In the EEA. To trade freely with Europe (EEA) rather than be joined into an unhappy arranged marriage that UK voters did not vote to for.

  5. mike quinlan says:

    Why does Gary Gibbon ridicule the EUs contribution to 70 years of peace while Cathy Newman doesn’t challenge Lam Fox on the cost of EU regulation. She must know we would have to comply with at least 85% of EU regulation whether or not we are members of the EU and much of the regulation e.g that related to pollution has been beneficial. Many viewers are unaware of this. Has Channel 4 given up on informed and impartial journalism?

    1. David Kelly says:

      The EU’s contribution to peace? Please. For a start, the organisation that is now the EU didn’t even exist until 1957, so how do you account for the 12 years of peace between the end of WWII and the Treaty of Rome? The people of Europe were tired of war, and were not about to go to war again so soon after 1945. We haven’t had any appetite for war since 1957 either, and it’s nothing to do with the EEC/EU. If governments were really hell-bent on going to war, they would.

      The main reason we in western Europe haven’t fought any wars (give or take a few terrorist outfits) is the presence of the Soviet Pact for almost 50 years after the War ended, and the presence of US troops on western European soil. The people who should have received the prize for preserving peace in Europe are the men and women of the US armed forces. This prize has been badly devalued by giving it to people who contributed more or less nothing to peace. It also proves that self-praise is no recommendation.

  6. Stephen Mackenzie says:

    Can’t help but feel some fairly basic research hasn’t happened here:


    They voted against it. Twice. But are EEA members and have been in a passport union with the other Scandinavian countries since 1950.

  7. Philip Edwards says:


    Unlike the UK, Norway didn’t give away so much of its natural resources to big oil and gas companies. Not, of course, that it saved us from the international bankers rip-off and ensuing “austerity.”

    I’m willing to bet if our citizens were asked if they wanted to nationalise banks and distribute wealth more fairly, or whether they wanted to get rid of “technocrats” (read: profiteering private bankers) in government – they would vote for the former. And that would apply across Europe.

    Instead, the tories will reduce the issue to outdated nationalist flag waving, all of it pump primed by the mainstream media outlets they own. This would include Dacre’s mad dog Daily Mail – the same newspaper that headlined “Hurrah For The Blackshirts!” during the rise of fascism.

    Some things never change,

  8. Owens says:

    Actually it would be easier to take the anti war self congratulations more seriously if we didn’t have troops in Iraq & afganistan;and were not rattling sabres elsewhere. However the best reason for leaving is economic. For instance EU regs relating to the slaughter of animals entering the human food chain are strict and costly. They contribute towards making this country less competitive, they can restrict growth and make some foods more expensive.Many would argue this is a good thing, better when played on a level playing field I think. I have a house in France a local farmer kills his animals in the farmyard and leaves them laid on the ground in the dirt beside the road for the butchers? van to collect. I have been watching him do it for 3 years, costs him nothing and does anyone believe he is alone in his practices? Really We are Net contributors to the EU as well as paying for all the over regulation to be implemented here, Which also restricts our competitiveness with the rest of the world. A common market can be a good thing, an overbloated corrupt organisation like the EU never will be.

  9. Feargal Mooney says:

    Let’s join the Euro, with London as its HQ. That would help both the Euro zone and the British economy. It would boost trade with and on the island of Ireland. That is what the negotiations could be around and that is a big enough bargaining point to get other reforms in return.

  10. anon says:

    Brits have always been independent with their own ideas. It is not the association with Europe that most object too but having our laws over ruled.Each member state has its own individual problems and areas of concern. It is naive to assume that the EU can address all individual concerns with one over ruling set of laws. It may well and already has impaired progress and the need to deal with individual areas of concern. Each state should have the right to deal with some of their own concerns when issues are in conflict with Europe.
    I hope that the referendum will be based solely on whether we can withdraw some of our powers from Europe and if not, then should we leave. Hopefully flexibility will prevail.

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