A Nobel prize for an imperfect union
December 10th, 2012
11:04 AM ET

A Nobel prize for an imperfect union

By Heather Conley,  Special to CNN

Heather Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views expressed are her own. 

Peace is not a word that would necessarily be associated with the European political landscape these days.

Yet today, at least 20 out of 27 European heads of state and three heads of the European Union (Council, Commission and Parliament) are in Norway to witness the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU "for over six decades having contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

As these leaders assemble in Oslo, we will again be reminded of Europe’s institutional and political complexity. No less than three EU officials are accepting the award; two leaders – European Council President Herman Von Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso – are giving speeches.

Perhaps it would be appropriate that German Chancellor Angela Merkel accept the honor as German taxpayers will increasingly bear the cost of “an ever closer” union.  She has called the award “an inducement and an obligation at the same time.”  Was she referring to Germany or the EU?  For Germany, the future financial cost (and benefit) of peace will be great.

Or maybe the award should be accepted by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, and seemingly the only figure in Europe able to prevent eminent economic collapse. As he has just downgraded Europe’s economic growth forecasts for 2013, his acceptance speech might be a bit tough on Europe’s leaders.

More from CNN: Why Europe deserved the Peace Prize

Although the Norwegian Nobel committee has always worked in mysterious ways – recall that U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the prize in 2009, ten months into his first term – the award offers an opportune moment to recall that the European integration project was designed “to make war materially impossible.”

In its earnest beginning in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community, economics – be it coal, steel and eventually a currency, the euro – were the means by which war in Europe was prevented. Ironically, sixty years later, the means that sought to further the peace project are now jeopardizing it. When awarding the prize, Nobel committee chair, Torbjørn Jagland, noted that, “There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating.”

By giving the award to the EU – with euro zone unemployment 11.7 percent, Greece entering its sixth year of recession and the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia demanding independence from Spain – a reminder is being delivered to Europe and the United States in particular that we cannot take for granted the irreversibility of this project despite its extraordinary success of joining 500 million people together in a common market that is America’s closest ally and greatest trade and investment partner.

But the award must also be a reminder to Europe that peace is strongly eroded when a Hungarian parliamentarian suggest that Jews are a threat to national security; when immigrants are beaten in Greece with the approval of a Greek political party; and Roma are expelled from France. These are the darker consequences of a deepening economic crisis and the politics of fear.

So today, we congratulate the European Union on this prestigious award and we celebrate Europe on a day when it is recognized for its founding tenet:  peace – and not its common currency. May the Nobel Peace Prize serve as a reminder to Europe that peace demands great political leadership and courage – and it comes at great cost.

And although cynics might suggest that the $1.2 million prize should go towards the financial rescue of Europe, it is good to note that the money will actually go to support children impacted by war. Fittingly, as those who accept the Nobel Prize today were once the children of war.

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Topics: Europe

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Awarding the Nobel Prize to a union that brought nothing but pain and misery to the average European is the most ludicrous notion ever conceived by mankind! This is sheer insanity at best!

    December 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
    • fair is fair

      I agree. I simply could not understand it any more than Obama's award.

      December 11, 2012 at 3:07 am | Reply
      • Kashyap

        Even surprising was how Obama was awarded!!!! lol

        December 13, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  2. Jacob Hansen, Harstad, Norway.

    For some years we had to do with Merkel and Sarkozy as "Merkozy". Now we have to deal with Merkel and Hollande as the "Merkollande" duet. Or? Did I make a fool out of myself, or does this little word game after all make any sense? Anyway, have a very pleasant pre-christmas time, everybody:) Jacob Hansen, Norway.

    December 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Hi, Jacob, why do you have to worry, whom you're dealing with? Neither "Merkozy" nor "Merkhollande" would affect you anyway, Norway isn't part of the EU. We, in the Nordic Union are better off than in the European Union, which throws everything in a melting pot, that doesn't blend.

      December 11, 2012 at 4:25 am | Reply
      • Jacob Hansen, Harstad, Norway.

        J. von Hettlingen, guten Abend:)

        Guess you are German or maybe Dutch? Yes, you are completely right in the point that Norway is not a member of the Union as such. But in many essential aspects we simply have to obey directives and orders given from Brussels. In many ways you can say that not only Oslo is the Norwegian capital, Brussels plays that role just as good as. What comes from Hollande, Merkel and others does indeed make influence into Norwegian politics and thinking. Many thanks for your reply:) Jacob H.

        December 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  3. Glenn Stanley

    Since the prize has been given to the EU, there are children in the EU (Greece and surrounding countries) who are hungry, going through extreme hardship and some attempting suicide, and the aid agencies are reporting that they do not have enough food to feed these children, why is the prize money not being used to feed the children in need in the EU?

    December 11, 2012 at 1:56 am | Reply
  4. fair is fair

    Just as war is sometimes senseless, so is the award of a peace prize to the EU. Hard on the heels on the award of the peace prize to the Commander in Chief of two ongoing wars, here is a prize for the organization that is a greater part of NATO, embracing, vilifying and finally excuting by proxy the former leader Libya. If that were no enough, there is talk of creating a greater carnage in Syria.

    The Nobel Peace prize, which once graced the shoulders of Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, is now bestowed upon this dubious union which, in its past has been the birthplace of two world wars, colonialism and the new imperialism. Individual member states may deserve it, but there is no reason for this.

    December 11, 2012 at 3:06 am | Reply
  5. Sally

    Nice article – there are remaining doubts about the Oslo commitee for this price – yes! I don't see any peace in the eurozone with it's hidden structures and no additional democratic invented tools. The national leaders don't see the neessity to invent them. There is still too much nationalism, too much hostility and small-thinking, not enough transparancy for the decision making processes and a remaining scepticism towards the eurozone. It works, because people keep their silence! There is a lot of a certain talk, a lot of global important players, but normal people don't feel having a voice, having opportunities and advantages, because of the euro-zone. In 2009, when the crisis came, officially there wasn't any, but the atmosphere was stiff and paralysed motions – wait and see – wait and see – dubious and post-poned statements. Politicians met and met again sometime later. The Greece, the lousy Greece, the Italiens, the Irish, the Spaniards, these governments with their lousy budgets, some hidden force of power let them jiggle, and keeping the real intentions behind close doors: it worked. Some changes came and only little protest – silence... – go on!
    I 'm not really convinced that with behaving like this, the peace-medal is justified! Just influencing and backing the powerful. Is there any model, any suggestion how the unemployment could be tackled? Is there any real solution against nationalism, right-wing violence, role of religious parties etc? What about Bosnia and the Balkan conflict! Pfui! – they only build a palace in Brussels to store the medal in!

    December 11, 2012 at 5:48 am | Reply
  6. Just for Fun

    It's PC all anyway. Political correctness wins once more just like when the fools gave Obama his peace prize. They are trying to prove that the Nobel Prize is relevant.
    Not much different when the entertainment industry gives each other awards for doing what their paid to do.
    Just how many awards do they give out each year ? Can anyone keep up with it?

    December 11, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply

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