EU awarded Nobel Prize for creating lasting peace
by Dean Carroll
In possibly the best public relations boost it has ever received, the European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has recognised what it deems to be six decades of the "advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". Despite the ongoing eurozone crisis, the resultant riots on the streets of many EU member states and growing nationalism - a view was taken that the EU had helped to "transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace".
Explaining the decision fully, the committee put out the following statement: "Since 1945, reconciliation has become a reality. The dreadful suffering in the Second World War demonstrated the need for a new Europe. Over a 70-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.
"In the 1980s, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU. The introduction of democracy was a condition for their membership. The fall of the Berlin Wall made EU membership possible for several Central and Eastern European countries, thereby opening a new era in European history. The division between east and west has to a large extent been brought to an end; democracy has been strengthened; many ethnically-based national conflicts have been settled."
Looking to the potential of future EU integration and enlargement, the committee added: "The admission of Croatia as a member next year, the opening of membership negotiations with Montenegro and the granting of candidate status to Serbia all strengthen the process of reconciliation in the Balkans. In the past decade, the possibility of EU membership for Turkey has also advanced democracy and human rights in that country.
"The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace. The work of the EU represents fraternity between nations and amounts to a form of the 'peace congresses' to which Alfred Nobel refers as criteria for the peace prize in his 1895 will."
In a joint statement, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy welcomed the award as a "tremendous honour", which had cemented the EU's place in history. They claimed that EU values were there to "make the world a better place for all", adding: "Over the last 60 years, the union has reunified a continent split by the Cold War around values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The EU will continue to promote peace and security in the countries close to us and in the world at large. We are proud that the EU is the world's largest provider of development assistance and humanitarian aid and is at the forefront of global efforts to fight climate change and promote global public goods. This Nobel Peace Prize shows that in these difficult times the EU remains an inspiration for leaders and citizens all over the world."
But responding angrily to the news, UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP said the award was "ridiculous", adding: "This goes to show that the Norwegians really do have a sense of humour. The EU may be getting the booby prize for peace because it sure hasn't created prosperity. The EU has created poverty and unemployment for millions. In the last two years, the EU has caused huge animosity between the countries of northern and southern Europe. Just look at Frau Merkel being welcomed with Nazi flags in Athens and German newspapers slagging off the Greeks as work-shy wonders. After watching European Council President Van Rompuy cheerleading for war in Libya with Colonel Gaddafi, this idea of the EU getting a Nobel Peace is ridiculous."
Labelling the committee's decision as a late "April Fools' joke", leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament Martin Callanan MEP said that the prize may have been justified 20 years ago but not today when the streets of Athens and Madrid were suffering from large-scale civil disobedience. "The EU's policies have exacerbated the fallout of the financial crisis and led to social unrest that we haven't seen for a generation," he added. "The Nobel Peace Prize was devalued when it was given to newly-elected Barack Obama. By giving the prize to the EU, the Nobel committee has undermined the excellent work of the other deserving winners of this prize."
In contrast, European Parliament President Martin Schulz insisted that the prize was an honour for all EU citizens. "We in the European Parliament are deeply touched. The EU has reunified the continent through peaceful means and brought arch enemies together. This historic act of reunification has been rightfully recognised.
"The values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect for human rights are absolutely fundamental to the EU. These fundamental values underpin all of the union's activities both internally and in our external policies. Several nations are freely negotiating accession, a sign that despite challenging economic conditions the EU is a magnet for stability, prosperity and democracy. The EU's principles and values of reconciliation can serve as an inspiration to other regions in the world. From the Balkans to the Caucasus, the EU serves as a beacon for democracy and reconciliation."
Meanwhile, the MEP leading the 'We demand a referendum' campaign in Britain - Nikki Sinclaire - said it was wrong to champion the EU at a time when many member states were "in turmoil due to financial problems". She added: "I am astonished at the decision. We have citizens of Greece, who are starving because of austerity measures that have been forced upon them. The suicide rate has risen in Greece as people have been unable to support themselves and their families, and the EU has done little for the country other than tell them that these measures are needed.
"What about the riots that have taken place in Spain? Forced austerity across Europe is causing major outbreaks of violence and there is much ill-feeling towards these EU enforced measures. We still have major issues in Cyprus, which the EU fails to address. Have I got the date wrong as this feels like an elaborate April Fools' joke? Sadly the joke is on us".
Countering her negative response to the awarding of the prize, chairman of the influential European People's Party Joseph Daul insisted that the EU was "the greatest project of peace ever, not only in Europe but in the entire world". He added: "We know the value of tolerance, dialogue and solidarity and we made it our main priority to promote it all over the world." Taking a similar stance, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed that EU institutions and member states had "played a vital role in healing the wounds of history and promoting peace, reconciliation and cooperation across Europe". He added: "It has contributed to the advancement of freedom, democracy and human rights across the continent and beyond. From the outset, NATO and the EU have shared common values and helped shape the new Europe. I look forward to strengthening our strategic partnership further to promote peace, stability and security."
Calling the Nobel Committee's decision "surprising and brave", Greens/European Free Alliance co-president Rebecca Harms said: "The EU, while imperfect and incomplete, is still a unique project for peace and unity. The award is also a timely reminder to the EU of its strengths at this time of crisis." The other Greens/EFA co-president Dany Cohn-Bendit added: "It is right for to celebrate this award but Europe must take this peace mission seriously and push to ensure the EU gains a seat on the United Nations Security Council as a peaceful power. The award of the Nobel Peace Price should also serve as a mission for the EU and its member states to take responsibility for the social peace and justice in the countries hit by the crisis."
Also reacting positively - Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said: "It is great news. The founding fathers of the EU were guided by the principle of creating and maintaining peace, after two atrocious world wars that shook Europe and the world. The European project is not only a guarantee for peace among the current 27 member states, but reaches further, among Europe's neighbours and candidate countries applying to join soon. The EU is also a single market uniting 500 million people, a continent in which citizens can travel to almost all states without borders thanks to the Schengen agreement and, above all, a society in which solidarity and cohesion are valued.
"Today, we do not need less Europe or a step back towards nation states, but more Europe. The way forward is through stronger integration, with a real economic union and in the long-term through political union. With unemployment - and especially youth unemployment - growing steadily, this is one of the key issues we must tackle to give citizens back hope and confidence in Europe."
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe leader Guy Verhofstadt MEP said the ever-increasing membership of the EU was testimony to the EU's quest for peace. He said the Nobel recognition was "a very clear message that the vision of the union's founding fathers of overcoming historic division and coming together for the interest of all is a message that still resonates today", adding: "Faced with resurgence of nationalism and Eurosceptic attitudes, it is still necessary today to fight for the spirit promoted by the union's forefathers. The necessity of overcoming differences and building our common future together is even more important than ever if we are to maintain this important project alive.
"However, the awarding of the prize must not leave us in the illusion that we are today being as successful as our forefathers. The union has a moral obligation to step up its efforts in bringing peace to its neighbourhood. Too many conflicts are still raging and our track record is patchy. The moment must be seized to develop a united foreign policy which pays credits the union values and history. This is particularly urgent when we see our inability to take appropriate action in Syria."
Senior British Liberal Democrat Party MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who has been the European Parliament's vice-president responsible for democracy and human rights since 2004, said: "The Nobel Peace Prize for the EU is recognition of the transformative power of the European project that brought a war-torn continent back to prosperity and through its enlargement process helped to spread democracy and freedom to the former Soviet bloc and is a model for reform worldwide. In the latest survey of 25,000 European citizens by Eurobarometer, spreading democracy and human rights across the world was seen to be the most important task of the EU. We must take this award as an encouragement to stand up for our values and redouble our efforts."
British Labour Party leader in the European Parliament Glenis Willmott MEP urged the EU to spend the prize money on youth employment schemes. "In these tough economic times in Europe, it's very easy to forget the success the EU has had bringing peace," she said. "The union was born out centuries of conflict in Europe, including some of the worst carnage ever known in the world, and this reminds us that it has brought peace to our continent for more than 50 years. This decision of the Nobel Committee has been a ray of sunlight in the dark economic times, and all the EU leaders should use this award to inspire us to redouble our efforts to tackle problems like youth unemployment. I hope the EU agrees to spend the prize money on initiatives that create jobs for young people."
It is difficult to see the Norwegian Nobel Committee's reputation getting any lower. Whether the EU has contributed meaningfully to peace and stability in Europe since the end of WWII is highly debatable. The enforcement of democracy by the allies on the former axis nations, the Marshall plan, the presence of several hundred thousand American troops, the existence of NATO, and the western solidarity occassioned by the former Soviet Union's existential threat to Western democracy all seem to be stronger drivers for democratic Europe not going to war.
The EU's failure however in the former Yugoslavia, does seem to call its role as a successful peace making body into question. The real loser, of course, is the reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize which has been steadily loosing credibility over the past few years. Perhaps its tarnished imaged can only now be restored by transfering responsibility for awarding the peace prize to the Swedish Nobel Committee.