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, Europe editor Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • 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 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 77.

    76, Oh and USA's foundation was not "cemented by rivers of blood"? Remember the First Nations? Some estimate 20 million were exterminated over a couple of centuries, in the name of Manifest Destiny.Not to mention the Civil War,no trifling matter.FYI, I am taking a very nuts&bolts view here of EU, not "idealism". EU Works. All nations have a BloodyHistory,alas.That is kind of the point.Changing it!

  • 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 32.

    25 demo

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

    Your comparison is fatuous.

    Nowhere in Europe, even in our poorest member states, is there such a stark contrast between citizens because of their colour and ethnic background as in your southern states. Not just in wealth but in opportunity, living conditions and dignity.


Comments 5 of 347



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.