Europe Reacts to Obama’s Nobel

Conservative disbelief, liberal dismay

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award a rather, er, premature Peace Prize to Barack Obama has been greeted with skepticism on the left and scorn on the right.

But this decision was, by all appearances, motivated by the desire of a group of elite Europeans to give their stamp of approval to Obama and his agenda. So—while responses from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan are probably more significant—how is the announcement being received in Europe?

Unsuprisingly, the official sources are expressing official approval. The English-language version of the German publication Spiegel has a round-up of responses from national leaders and other important muckety-mucks, who generally offer congratulations to Obama and, in some cases, explicit endorsement to the selection—though Spiegel notes that “officials also acted with surprise — and statements from leaders came much later than would usually be expected.” And there was a bit of on-the-record grumbling, or at least eyebrow-raising. In a widely-reported comment, the Polish anti-communist leader Lech Walesa—who’s been critical of Obama before—said, “Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast — he hasn’t had the time to do anything yet.” Danish foreign minister Per Stig Møller called the move an “unusual choice,” reports The Copenhagen Post. And in Norway, home of the Nobel, while prime minister Jens Stoltenberg praised the announcement, opposition leader Siv Jensen
said it came too early: “It is [results] that counts, not visions.”

The European press itself, of course, is not known for its reluctance to express an opinion, and response there tracked fairly closely to what we’re seeing in America: conservative disbelief, liberal dismay. “No joke, despite appearances,” said a commentator for the conservative Spanish publication ABC. The Times of London’s Michael Binyon goes farther: the headline on his column reads, “Absurd decision on Obama makes a mockery of the Nobel peace prize.” On the other side of the spectrum, the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont is not moved to defend the selection: “Why now?” his commentary asks. Spiegel’s Claus Christian Malzahn predicts the prize will be “more of a burden than an honor.” And Le Monde, France’s leading liberal paper, put the selectors on the defensive, headlining its coverage “The Nobel committee justifies the choice of Obama.” (Translations via Google).

So if nothing else, the announcement is revealing some underlying similarity of opinion on either side of the Atlantic. Maybe Obama deserved the prize after all!

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.