Right-Wing Populist Is Blocked From Joining Nobel Peace Prize Committee
The politician, Carl I. Hagen, opposes immigration and Islam, denies climate change and supports President Trump.
OSLO — Injecting rare drama into a process that is supposed to be shielded from politics, members of the Norwegian Parliament have blocked the appointment of a right-leaning populist politician to the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize.
For nearly three decades, from 1978 to 2006, the politician, Carl I. Hagen, led the Progress Party, transforming it from a small right-wing fringe party into a significant anti-tax, anti-immigration bloc that entered the ranks of government for the first time this year, in a coalition with the center-right Conservative Party.
Mr. Hagen, 73, is an outlier in the consensus-based political world of Norway, an oil-rich nation that prides itself on its humanitarian record and its outsize role in international diplomacy. He has been a critic of immigration since the 1980s, long before the issue dominated the political agenda as it does now. He once argued that, like Hitler, fundamentalist Muslims planned world domination — a claim that drew formal protests from Arab diplomats. He denies climate change. And he supports President Trump, having likened him to Ronald Reagan.
But even those controversies paled in comparison to the one set off last month when the Progress Party put forward Mr. Hagen as its nominee for one of three vacancies on the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prize.
Under the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will, members of the committee are elected for six-year terms, and the composition is supposed to reflect that of the Norwegian Parliament.
The Progress Party put forward Mr. Hagen as a replacement for another party member, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, whose six-year term is expiring. Leaders of the opposition Labour, Centre and Socialist Left parties immediately raised a furor. Descendants of Nobel, and a former secretary of the Nobel committee, Geir Lundestad, also spoke out against Mr. Hagen’s appointment.
On Monday, Parliament put forward a new rule that bars members, and their alternates, from serving on the Nobel committee. (Each of the 169 members of Parliament has two alternates; Mr. Hagen is the second alternate for a lawmaker from Oslo.)
Proponents of the rule change cited several precedents. In 1937, after the prize was awarded to the imprisoned German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, a decision that infuriated Nazi Germany, the rules were changed to bar sitting members of the government from serving on the committee. And in 1978, after an uproar over the awarding of the prize to the American statesman Henry A. Kissinger, Parliament adopted a motion urging — but not requiring — that sitting lawmakers not serve on the committee.
The lawmakers this week made the latter rule binding, and expanded the restriction to include alternates. “For the sake of the committee’s independence, it was best to establish it as an unbreakable rule,” Jonas Gahr Store, the head of the Labour party, said through a spokeswoman.
The Progress Party cried foul. “The new rule was made solely to block Carl’s seating on the committee,” said a party lawmaker, Ulf Lerstein. “The other parties are blocking him, because he has always been an outsider to the political establishment. They fear him and his opinions.”
Mr. Lerstein argued that the prize had strayed from its core focus to recognize work on issues like climate change. He called the decision to award the prize to Barack Obama in 2009 “a joke.”
Mr. Lerstein said the Progress Party had no plans to nominate someone other than Mr. Hagen. That means that on Friday, Parliament is almost certain to reappoint to the committee Berit Reiss-Andersen, a corporate lawyer, and to appoint Anne Enger, an anti-European Union former leader of the Centre Party, to effectively fill the seat being vacated by Tone Jorstad, the former director of a museum on human rights.
As for Ms. Ytterhorn’s seat, it will most likely be filled by an alternate, Kristin Clemet, who leads a conservative think tank.
On Monday, in addition to the rule change, lawmakers asked the president of Parliament, Olemic Thommessen, to look into additional changes that could bar leaders of international organizations from serving on the committee. That proposal, which would require further action, is seen as a jab at Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, and Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, both of whom are former Labour Party politicians.
Another longtime idea — allowing non-Norwegians to serve on the committee — is not being considered, for now. “That would be far too complicated,” said Asle Sveen, an author and expert on the history of the peace prize.
Mr. Sveen said that he approved of the rule change, but that to truly guarantee the prize’s independence, Parliament should avoid former politicians and stick with scholars like the philosopher Henrik Syse, a current member of the committee, and the historian Francis Sejersted, a former member.
This week, Norway’s government announced that its foreign minister would not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony on Sunday, at which the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons will be recognized. Norway, as a NATO member, is a close ally of the United States, which opposes the campaign’s mission.