Less than a week ago the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded – to the surprise, bafflement and derision of many – to the European Union. It is a decision that has sparked praise and applause from within the institution itself but has also been met with criticism. The reasoning behind giving the award to the European Union is rooted in the fact that since its establishment at the end of the Second World War, the EU has helped create unity in a region that saw itself embroiled in two wars within 40 years.
President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy acknowledged this, saying he is proud that the prize, awarded by the Nobel Council in Oslo, recognised the EU as the “biggest peacemaker in history.” His sentiments were repeated by the head of the European commission José Manuel Barroso, who said that the European Union, “brought together nations emerging from the ruins of devastating world wars – which originated on this continent – and united them in a project for peace.”
…“undermined the excellent work of the other deserving winners.”
While the award has been welcomed by EU committee members, the announcement has sparked an equal amount of disapproval. UK Independent Party (UKIP) leader, Nigel Farage has branded the decision as “baffling”, while European parliament Tory leader Martin Callanan has said that by giving the EU the Noble prize, the committee has, “undermined the excellent work of the other deserving winners.” Callanan’s comments certainly would have rung true three years ago when Barrack Obama was awarded the prize mere weeks after winning the US Presidential Election. But perhaps there is also some truth to Callanan’s comments today. In the prize’s 111 year history, recipients have included Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. Each one of these individuals spent their lives in a peaceful manner, facing prison, hatred and exile, while encouraging others to live by the same anti-violence principles, even when their countries were at breaking point.
The same cannot really be said for the EU. Although it has been successful in creating a unity amongst countries that have in the past spent not just decades but thousands of years at war with each other, it has also failed to intervene when neighbouring countries tore themselves apart. Just think of the turbulence in Eastern Europe during the 1990s with the Balkans War.
It’s not quite war, but it’s not exactly peace either…
But the achievements of the European Union should not be passed over lightly. It has also helped to promote democracy and human rights and aided countries like Spain and Greece from dictatorship to democracy. In light of these successes, maybe we should not be questioning the legitimacy of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union but simply the timing in which it has been awarded.
The European financial crisis, with its highly unpopular job cuts and various other austerity measures, has lead to widespread rioting throughout the continent. Public anger in Greece and Spain in particular has lead to violence on the streets with tear gas being used by police forces and rioters hurling gasoline bombs. It’s not quite war, but it’s not exactly peace either. And if that wasn’t enough, tensions between Greece and Germany became strikingly clear during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece when she was ‘greeted’ by Nazi salutes and flags. It was these actions that led Panos Skourletis, spokesman for Syriza, the main opposition party in Greece, to say of the EU’s award: “I just cannot understand what the reasoning would be behind it. In many parts of Europe, but especially in Greece, we are experiencing what really is a war situation on a daily basis albeit a war that has not been formally declared. There is nothing peaceful about it.”