The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the 2012 Peace Prize to the European Union. The decision has met with a combination of praise, condemnation and shock. The committee said the prize recognized more than six decades during which Europe has renounced violence and become a beacon of "peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights,” both on the subcontinent and beyond.
But Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee's chairman, said that Europeans should look upon this award as a warning – a warning of what is at stake should Europe’s current economic and political troubles fail to reach resolution. "This year we saw that the prize could be important in giving a message to the European public of how important it is to secure what they have achieved on this continent," he said as he announced the award in Oslo.
Most European politicians seconded the chairman’s sentiments, and pointed to the EU's achievements, especially in light of its currency problems. "The award of the Nobel Prize of Peace to the European Union reminds us that the EU is endlessly more than (interest-rate) spreads and bailout funds," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said.
Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso—as presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, respectively, said the award "shows that in these difficult times the European Union remains an inspiration for leaders and citizens all over the world."
Many others, particularly those not wedded to the current status quo, questioned why the EU should receive such recognition in the midst of debilitating internal turmoil – especially an almost fierce anti-German sentiment. In that regard, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to recession-hit Greece last week prompted tens of thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Their objection was and remains opposition to EU-mandated spending cuts and economic overhauls (“austerity”).
"Today's award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is an insult to the people of Europe themselves, who currently are experiencing an undeclared war as a result of the barbaric, anti-social austerity policies that are destroying social cohesion and democracy," said Rania Svigkou, a spokeswoman for Greece's far-left Syriza party. Syriza polled second in the Greek parliament elections earlier this year.
For its part, the Nobel committee did at least mention the economic problems roiling about Europe -- particularly its currency union. It noted that five euro countries—Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus—and several EU members have asked for and received billions of euros in bailout to stabilize, or save, their teetering economies. The situation has grown so dire as to cause serious questions as to the future ability of the EU to even exist.
There already exists a deep rift between the 17 countries that use the euro and the 10 EU states that don't. These divisions may only be exacerbated as the currency crisis grows.
As stated, the chairman of the committee at least mentioned the crisis during the award announcement. Rather tepidly, Jagland said, "We don't have a position on how to solve the economic crisis, but we believe it will be important to solve it and that European unity can be kept so that Europe can move forward."
In recent years, the awarding of the Peace Prize has garnered significant controversy, protest and condemnation. The 2009 award to US Presidentwas especially worrisome to those who truly prize peace. At the time, he was overseeing two wars in the Middle East, and had just begun his cut-backs of “legitimate” protests in the US itself.
The late Palestinian leaderand Israeli politicians and , all happy warriors in the true sense of the term, won collectively in 1994.
Finally, the EU’s role in the intervention in Libya last year, in which France and the U.K. participated, but Germany didn't, is another example of the EU’s Janus-faced approach to war and peace.