The Nobel Peace Prize this year has been awarded to the European Union for promoting and upholding “60 years of peace in Europe.” The (often controversial) award has again produced a mixed response, as critics question the honor in the midst the eurozone crisis, as austerity, unrest, unemployment and rising fascism plague member states.
The reasoning behind the award selection seems both transparent and politics-driven. Thorbjorn Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the panel awarding the prize, has openly expressed concern about the European Union’s future in light of the debt crisis and attendant upheavals.
“There is a great danger … We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization,” said Jagland.
And indeed, following Jagland’s logic, a number of commentators have praised the Nobel choice as an important boost and encouragement for the beleagured 27-nation bloc.
Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, told the BBC:
This is a big confidence boost for the EU at a moment when confidence is at a very low ebb because of the euro crisis. It’s an important reminder that European integration is a peace project. In the Balkans reconciliation is all under the EU’s auspices – were it not for the EU they wouldn’t be where they are today. The EU is the only body able to bring a whole range of peace-building measures to such a troubled region – the US couldn’t do that. France and Germany no longer go to war to resolve economic difficulties. In previous centuries they did, but now they negotiate through the European Council – much better. Reconciliation is about exorcising the ghosts of history. It’s easy to forget that now, we take peace for granted.
Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Europe think tank, told the Guardian that the award “gives the EU a morale boost at a time when it has been shaken to its core … It is a reminder to Eurosceptics to consider the real merits of the union they so despise, and it is an appeal to Europe to finally become a serious strategic player in the world.”
Meanwhile, others have derided and decried the choice, echoing responses in 2009 when a newly minted President Barack Obama won the Peace Prize. Eurosceptics have been swift to register scoffs. “I think that the whole thing is a nonsense,” the U.K.’s Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told the BBC. “If anyone is suggesting that a democratic, stable, post-war Germany would have invaded France again with the intention of smashing it to smithereens, I would suggest they are misreading history.”
Martin Callahan, a British member of the European Parliament quoted in The New York Times, situated his critiques in the ongoing eurozone crisis:
The Nobel Committee is a little late for an April Fool’s joke,” said Martin Callanan, a British member of the European Parliament and the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group… The E.U.’s policies have exacerbated the fallout of the financial crisis and led to social unrest that we haven’t seen for a generation… Presumably, this prize is for the peace and harmony on the streets of Athens and Madrid.
And while some supporters of the decision insist that recent decades of relative peace in Europe justify the prize, some commentators question whether the European Union should be credited with this historical achievement. The New Statesman’s legal blogger, David Allen Green, noted:
The European Union is rather good at taking the benefit of the work of others and at promoting its own mythology. But strictly speaking, the European Union has existed only since 1993. Its (main) predecessor organization, the European Economic Community (established by treaty in 1957, some twelve years after the Second World War) was primarily a trading organization for some (but not all) of the countries on the western side of the Cold War. An important entity without any doubt, but certainly not the sole or even leading source of human rights and peace in Europe after 1945.
… Indeed, to say anything about peace in Europe for sixty years ignores the conflicts which have occurred: not least the savage wars which affected the former Yugoslavia for ten years after 1990. “Europe” is not the same as the “European Union”, however many people seem to forget this.
As Carnegie Europe’s Techau told the Guardian, “The peace prize has always been a political one.”
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Natasha Lennard.