EU Nobel peace prize: No minor achievement

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) receives flowers from Norway's Ambassador to the EU, Atle Leikvoll, in Brussels, 12 October EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) received flowers from Norway's Ambassador to the EU, Atle Leikvoll

Europe's officials could scarcely believe their good fortune today. Unexpectedly, the EU was given the Nobel Peace Prize. The citation praised the EU for "over six decades" contributing to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

Europe's leaders fell upon this rare piece of good news with an almost desperate embrace. If there is a core justification for the European project, it is to make war impossible again on the continent. That has been the EU's outstanding achievement. When under attack, Europe's leaders fall back upon 60 years of peace in Europe. It is no minor achievement.

Secondly, after and just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the EU acted as a beacon for democracy, for human rights and a civil society. Many Eastern European countries rejected communism because they had before them a clear example of an alternative. Young people wanted to be part of a normal European society. Eastern Europe today is testimony to the spread of democracy.

It is also true that the existence of the EU enabled countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece to make the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Even today, in the midst of hardship and austerity, there is a deep attachment to belonging to Europe. That is the legacy of history.

But the Nobel committee's decision will puzzle many. Despite the EU's successes, it failed in the Balkans. It lacked the will and determination to intervene and save lives. The massacre at Srebrenica happened in Europe's backyard.

And the prize comes at a moment of violence and tension on the streets of many European capitals as a young generation endures years of hardship and high unemployment. For them the European dream has not delivered.

It should not be forgotten that the committee in Oslo awarded US President Barack Obama the peace prize when he had few achievements to his name. It was a prize offered more in hope.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the prize was an inspiration. She said it was a "wonderful decision" and said it would inspire her personally to press ahead with closer integration.

That, of course, raises an intriguing question. Will "ever closer union" deliver more democracy and peace or will it sow tension and division?

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    "What other continent has known the same level of peace in the last 50 years?"

    Well, let's see. We have: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

    In Europe: Bosnia, Chechnya, the Irish war of occupation, the Spain under Franco, the Red Army Faction in Germany. So that is worse than Antartica, North and South America, and Australia.

    Europe is 5th from 8.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @3. FrenchGeordieAussie: I salute you, for you talk with the voice of reason and the knowledge of facts.
    And I pity you - for you will relentlessy be voted down by the EU-bashing crowd. They seem to think that a continent without war is a god-given right and they forget that before European integration, there were wars BETWEEN Western European nations, not with the USSR.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What a farce. Only uninformed children believe that the EU was responsible for peace between NATOP and the Soviet Union.

    It is one thing to politicize some public "prize", but it is quite another to rewrite history completely. Now Europeans, whoever Brussels decides they are (no ethnic russians), can thank German and French bankers for the simmering peace of the cold war.

    It's a bald faced lie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    For what promoting homosexual agenda and same sex marriage....Come on people......This is a shame....Without US this organization could not solve Balkan Conflict...Could not solve economic meltdown and do not care about human rights in Europe, have no social responsibility and care only for big corporations and banks

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Remember WW2 and the hatred between countries at that time

    The award to the EU is an award for the European continent which has managed to put aside its cultural and linguistic differences to dare to aspire to something greater.

    The EU is not perfect by any means, but it is relatively peaceful by modern-day standards. What other continent has known the same level of peace in the last 50 years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Seeing the EUs complete distaste for democracy, and the ballot box this seems a bit weird. The one thing that throws EU leaders into terror, is having to ask the people, REFERENDUM please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    The idea that the EU is responsible for the peace in Europse since the end of WW2 is unhistorical nonsense. No one suggested it before 1989.

    During the cold war peace was maintained by a balance of fear between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. The experience of facing a common enemy entrenched peaceful relations in western Europe. That, and cheap package holidays. The EU had nothing to do with it.


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