A Prize that requires a new commitment

The European Union received on Friday the Peace Nobel Prize. A lot of European and national leaders were very pleased about this distinction, e.g. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, François Hollande, President of the French Republic, and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, who said that the prize was a great honour for all the Europeans. 

This distinction comes at a moment when the European Union is at a crossroads and is facing the deepest crisis of its History. Many people – mainly on the social networks – questioned the legitimacy of such an award, judged similar to the one received by Barack Obama in 2009. For some people indeed, awarding such a prize is quite non-understandable, not to say crazy; it is a subtle way to restore the reputation of an institution more and more criticized by citizens. In addition, it is important to remind the current political context in which the Heads of State and government seem to be rival and suspicious towards Greece and other “PIGS” countries, because of the Eurozone crisis. We are very far from the glorious hours of the EU, when some national leaders as Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand, or some European rulers such as Jacques Delors (President of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995) did not hesitate to put their pro-European convictions forward towards a public opinion, not always in favour.

By awarding this prestigious prize to the European Union, the Nobel Committee wanted to pay tribute to the European idea rather than to the EU as an institution, a way to say that, in spite of its contradictions, its difficulties and even its failures (for instance, during the Yugoslavian crisis in 1991, prelude to the war that followed), the EU succeeded in the essential, that is to say peace. It is often forgotten, but the European integration was launched on a hope: building an area of prosperity and peace by and for the Europeans, just after the Second World War which was a traumatising and deadly conflict for lots of populations. This idea, imagined by intellectuals as De Gasperi, Schuman or Monnet, implied that Europeans understand and know each other, a condition sine qua none to install peace and trust durably.

The Founding Fathers’ action has been crucial to instil this idea of Europe and make the integration process irreversible and logical, despites the motions of History. The idea of Europe is not self-evident, even if it seems obvious and easy to evocate for the current ERASMUS generation, more open to the external world. This probably explains the sceptical reaction of some people regarding the opportunity to award the Nobel Prize to the EU, especially at a moment when it is accused of all the problems and all the deficits (mainly the democratic one).

So, this prize pays tribute to Europe as an idea, but requires a commitment from the EU as an institution. Like Barack Obama in 2009, we can talk of a bet on the future, in so far as the European Union shall reinvent itself and not forget its initial goal: peace. It is a way to say that, in spite of the crisis the EU is experiencing, Europe as an idea is still indispensable, especially in the current context. It is an idea that must be kept and respected, which supposes a new way for the EU, more democratic and closer to the citizens.

It is a manner of understanding the Nobel Committee’s decision, a counter-current decision if we refer to the current troubles within the EU. Though the EU has still a lot to do, its materialisation and its most visible achievements (a currency, its legislation, its programmes, a European Parliament) are all evidence that it achieved the objective of Monnet, Gasperi, Spaak and the others: ensuring peace within its area. That deserves a Prize, even symbolic.

Gilles Johnson

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