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 27.

    Wonderful award for a continent unsurpassed in the development of mankind and civilisation.

    It is to the achievements during nearly 3 000 years of our existence in sculpture, painting, the divine musical contributions, medicine , law,in short all the things that make life so rich and fulfilling and now decades of peace that we should all join in praise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Germany Not to blame in any way for Greeks' current struggles. Greeks themselves & some Greek-American businessmen & bankers most emphatically are.So is US-trained Papandreou,his family &cronies.So is GoldmanSachs.I imagined any child would understand that much, yet even BBC keeps replaying insulting Nazi-kit images as if there is any validity to the suggestion.Greece:there is NoAlternative to EU!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    "It is Priceless, a lot more impt than Debts!"

    Yeah, until everyone is paying for their food with borrowed money.

    Maria, do you have any idea what is going on in Europe right now?

    You know that Spain, Italy and Greece have unemployment levels that were typical of the great depression in the USA?

    Would you sing the praise of the USA, if you had 25% unemployment across the southern states?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I find the despicable hate speech of a few Greek dissenters kitted out as Nazis to insult Angela Merkel to be nothing short than criminal & certainly actionable. What I cannot fathom, however, is why the BBC is giving these brainless hatemongers so much free publicity?A few yrs ago, BBC was with the world in chastising offensive Polish cartoons mocking Angela.What has changed?GermanyHelpingGreeks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.


    "should revert back to what it was initially which was a free trade area with ease of travel between members"

    The EEC was never a free trade area. It was set up to prevent recurrence of the wars between France and Germany in the last few centuries (starting with the 30-year war). This has happened. People claiming the EEC was originally a free trade area don't understand the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Unfortunately, there is no Peace Prize for Democracy, otherwise they would no doubt have been awarded that following the imposition of a Government on Greece and the refusal to accept a No vote from Ireland.

    I am surprised that they did not win the prize for Economics at this time though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @14, Michael, if you care to read the record, you may note that I brought up neither the issue of comparing continents, nor the comparisons of undemocratic institutions. I was merely responding to both those claims. For that, you mock me, and claim they were my own comparisons.
    The EU is such a cult, insofar as its adherents behave. "Truth" is emotionally charged, and any criticism is attacked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    A great day for anyone who loves European Civilisation, Mr Hewitt -- no matter where we live or hail from! EU is indeed proof that it is possible to defuse even thorny, age-old territorial/ethnic hostilities...This is a model for the world, one we already see being emulated, e.g. in the Mercosur alliance, Pacific Rim set, Arab League &such.It does work. It is Priceless, a lot more impt than Debts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The award of the Peace Prize is always controversial. I can't recall the last time it wasn't. The EU's not perfect, far from it, but blame for the current crisis in Europe can't be laid only at its door. Individual national governments are just as much to blame. If the prize were awarded only to entirely SUCCESSFUL individuals and organisations, the short lists would be short indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    EU institutions democratic? Nah. Prevent the rise of nationalistic dictatorships? That is likely to be tested in the near future. Now they've got the prise money they'll spend it on a huge beano for the 'great and the good' where they will decide on doubling the EU budget and demand we pay for more 'integration'. They got the peace gong after all, shouldn't they have unlimited largesse?
    No chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    If it is barely believable good fortune simply for being awarded a discredited Peace Prize - remember Obama was given one just for being elected President, then it suggest the EU is in a very bad position.

    The truth is that the EU was nominated a number of times, and has been rejected - it is only now, in its turmoil, that it has won.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Nato brought peace to Europe. Without the Americans, Russia would have swept through Western Europe after WW2.
    Nato has allowed the EU to develop in peace, now it is becoming more like the USSR everyday, as it moves away from democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    13 contd preserving the power of the elite few. What should have been a good thing is now in ruins and should revert back to what it was initially which was a free trade area with ease of travel between members not this overbearing politicised and corrupt monstrosity it has become

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @10. democracythreat
    First you compare Europe to Antarctica, now you're implicitly comparing Barroso and Van Rompuy to Pinochet and Stroessner. Oh well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Europe was much more stable between 1815 and the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon and the outbreak of world war 1 in 1914. The EU has tried to turn a diverse patchwork of sovereign countries with long standing traditions and strong sense of national identity and pride into a top heavy, undemocratic, bureacracy that is not interested in its citizens (as shown recently) but in tbc

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Further integration will be necessary within the EU to sustain a peaceful continent. The most essential requirement for governments is to maintain the conditions for peace and security with the union, effectively becoming a federal union, as in the United States. Anything less, is prone to disintegration. The Nobel Peace Prize focuses attention on this prospect. Britain appears divided on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    @3 I agree that Europe has put aside any ill will towards neighbouring countries but would argue that it is the memory of previous conflict, mass tourism and 24hr media that has achieved that - not the heavy handed, cold and remote EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @9, Maybe, but I wasn't the one who brought up this idea that Europe was the world's most peaceful continent. I was just trying to show how little reality intrudes into the EU-rophile chatter. Europe is the centre of collective wisdom. Air and light were invented in Europe. Jesus went to school in Munich, and so forth.
    Now you point to South America's "dictatorships", as if the EU were democratic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @7. democracythreat
    You are counting 0, 2 and 3 country continents (Antarctica, Australia, North America). But when you compare Europe to 'real' continents with a similar patchwork of countries and nations, Europe has gone from being the least stable to being by far the most stable one. Africa and Asia need no explanation, and Latin America has seen dictatorships and bloody civil war. No contest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I do not buy the argument that the alternative to the EU is war and conflict in Europe. On the contrary I believe that the strains of trying to comply with Euro membership is causing more bad feeling and ill will than before it's inception. The Eurocrats always fall back on more EU is needed. Barroso was and is a marxist with the EU suiting his centralised dogma to a 'T'.


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