Norwegian Nobel Committee to World: EU for Thee But Not For Me

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Oct. 12 2012 9:14 AM

Norwegian Nobel Committee to World: EU for Thee But Not For Me

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Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende (L) welcomes Herman van Rompuy (R), chairman of the European Council at his residence in The Hague on January 6, 2010.

Photo by ED OUDENAARDEN/AFP/Getty Images

The most striking thing about the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee's decision to award a Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union is that Norway is part of Europe by almost any geographical or sociological definition, and yet it's not part of the European Union.

It's easy enough to see what the Norwegians are thinking. I'm not 100% sure it's true that the institutional structure of the EU deserves the credit for the past 65 years of continental peace, but it certainly hasn't hurt. And the EU very clearly seems to have been a major force in favor of the consolidation of democracy in post-communist Central Europe. The formation of a currency union was ill-advised and the handling of that currency union has been problematic. But in the broad scheme of things the EU has been a force for good and it seemed to be in need of a pep talk.

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But then look at Norway.

Norway's not in the EU because, basically, Norway has really large per capita deposits of oil and natural gas. Norway is the world leader in smart management of natural resource wealth, and they've built an amazingly free and prosperous (albeit small) society for themselves out there on the northwestern fringe of the continent. And since Norwegian democracy is accountable to Norway's citizens, it doesn't want to enmesh itself in the kind of deep political and economic integration that would lead to redistribution of that wealth to the rest of Europe. And it's not because Norwegians are selfish, exactly. Norwegians support a great deal of domestic redistribution and all that good Nordic social model stuff. Nor are Norwegians stingy on an international stage. Norway is one of the world's most generous foreign aid donors. But they give their money to countries that are poor, not just poor compared to Norway.

The Portugese are stuck in a kind of dead zone. They're not Norwegian enough for Norwegians to put them in their circle of social solidarity, and they're not poor enough for Norwegians to put them in their circle of charity. They're just Portugese. The Norwegians want to get along peacefully with them and they're glad there's no more threat of war on the continent, but they don't want deep political integration with a bunch of bigger, poorer countries.

And there's nothing crazy about that. But there's also nothing crazy about people in Helsinki or Hamburg or The Hague having a similar view.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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