A breaking piece of news has come this morning from Norway, where the Nobel Prize Committee announced that the Nobel peace prize 2012 was awarded to the European Union.
After presenting some reactions, I will underline why this prize is justified.
Most welcomed this good news in times of economic difficulties. As Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP group in the European Parliament said: “The European Union is the greatest project of peace ever, not only in Europe but in the entire world. The whole history and values of the European Union have been recognised today. We know the value of tolerance, dialogue and solidarity and we made it our main priority to promote it all over the world.”
As for Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission, he expressed his emotion and had a thought for the Founding Fathers – Monnet, Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi – to whom we owe today’s Nobel Prize.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated that “the EU is more than a currency”, even if the focus in on the Euro during the current weeks and months, and also that 60 years were a very short time for History. Therefore it is necessary to always continue the fight for freedom and democracy.
Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said that this prize was “for all EU citizens” and noted that “several nations are freely negotiating accession to the European Union, a sign that despite challenging economic conditions, the European Union is a magnet for stability, prosperity and democracy”. He also added that “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.”
Others were more sceptical, wondering if giving the Nobel peace prize to the EU now, when the people are suffering from the consequences of the economic crisis and when the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) still remains pretty weak.
The following comments aim at answering to these doubts and explaining why this award should be welcomed.
An acknowledgement of the success of an incredible project
In the press release, the Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed out the fact that “since 1945, [the] reconciliation [between France and Germany] has become a reality”. Indeed, the period of peace lasting until now is probably one of the longest, if not the longest in European history. It is worth recalling that before 1945, France and Germany had fought three wars within 75 years! As stated in the press release, “this shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners”.
Having succeeded in reconciling former enemies, the European Union (at the time the European Community) became also a symbol for peace outside of its borders. The first to benefit from it were Greece, Spain and Portugal, all former dictatorships which became members of the EC after converting themselves to democracies. And after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the message of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights reached the former countries of the Eastern bloc, supporting the changes occurring there during the 1990s before they joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. And the enlargement prospects are not over, as the EU looks forward to welcoming Croatia as its 28th member next year.
This prize is not only about the past, but also about present and future
The Committee, as written above, mentioned the prospects of enlargement for neighbouring countries which lead them to strive for peace and to improve their records on Human Rights (though, once again, the situation is not perfect). Indeed, the Copenhagen criteria, which are a pre-requisite for EU membership, include peace, democracy and respect for Human Rights.
Furthermore, the EU is an example of successful reconciliation and can share its experience with countries in areas such as the Balkan where, after chaotic diplomacy at the beginning of the 1990s, the EC Member States finally acted united to end the war and to promote peace under EC/EU flag.
The EU is more than just an economic Union
The Nobel Committee indicated that while “the EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest”, it wanted 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.” This is also what Angela Merkel noted very justly (see above).
The EU in the world
It is true that the action of the EU to promote peace and Human Rights across the world is not well-known and sums up to soft power instruments. In addition, the European External Action Service (EEAS), a very young organ, needs time to be fully operational and effective.
There are reasons for this weakness of the CFSP, most notably the fact that decisions are taken at unanimity by national governments…
So, the EU can and should do more, but I believe it would be false to affirm that the EU does nothing to promote peace outside Europe. First, the EU is the biggest aid donor in the world. Second, it contributes to several peace-keeping missions across the world. And third, many commercial agreements with less developed countries include conditional clauses on the progress of democracy, Human Rights and peace.
The never ending fight for democracy
Last but not least, as put by the Nobel Committee, “the work of the EU represents ‘fraternity between nations’”. This work is never finished: peace must be defended and should not be taken for granted, as it is precisely in these moments of inadvertence that it is most threatened. Obvious examples are visible: the rise of extremism and nationalism and the temptation of withdrawing into oneself are reality in several Member States.
We should remember that preserving peace within Europe requires also social justice, an indispensable element in these times of economic crisis. The Founding Fathers knew that peace could be achieved only through prosperity for all. The concept of social market economy emerged in Germany in the 1950s and still is a central feature of the “European social model”.
In conclusion, this prize is an acknowledgement for the past, a message of hope for the present, and an encouragement to do more in the future.