The Nobel Committee has lately seemed less intent on recognizing courage with the Nobel peace prize, and more on offering encouragement. Its 2009 honoree, President Barack Obama, had only been in office a few months, but his diplomatic savvy was duly recognized. This year, the European Union won the award for encouraging peace and democracy on the continent, even as it scrambles to preserve itself from financial disaster.
Please, the committee seems to be saying: Don’t fall apart now, you’ve come so far! But Norway isn’t part of the EU, despite being a shoo-in for membership—a wealthy, democratic, European nation with a penchant for internationalism. The country is deeply euro-skeptical, and the EU only received the prize because Ågot Valle, a member of the Nobel committee and a prominent feature of the “Nei til EU” (No to the EU) campaign, who had vetoed past efforts to honor the confederation, was too ill to block the award this year.
At Slate.com, Matt Yglesias has a theory for why Norway isn’t a member: While its natural resources and egalitarian ethic have made it both wealthy and an international do-gooder, struggling EU countries like Spain and Greece aren’t the kinds of places Norway considers deserving of its international solidarity. They’re simply not poor enough. And belonging to the same continent isn’t special enough to tie them to Norway either. They’re just people who live more-or-less nearby.
That’s why the Nobel committee’s citation remembered the historic reconciliation of France and Germany, and the transitions to democracy that occurred in Spain, Portugal and Italy when they eventually joined the EU. While the economics of Europe don’t look good at the moment, there hasn’t been a world war in a good half-century, thanks in part to the EU’s post-national spirit.
But nationalism still keeps Norway out of the EU, and it’s easy to understand why the same spirit makes people in Germany, Finland and Belgium, not to mention Greece or Spain, skeptical of involvement, too. It may come down to similarly tight margins if voters in those countries need to choose whether to maintain the EU. It’s a mixed message from the Norwegians: take the prize, but we’ll keep the krone.