The international Charlemagne Prize, awarded for contributions to European unity, has gone to the President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy.
The jury described the former Belgian prime minister, who chairs EU summits, as a mediator who tried to find consensus.
Accepting the award a few days after Eurosceptic and far-right gains in European elections, van Rompuy told a ceremony that the EU should do more to protect its people.
To regain people’s trust, he said the European Union needed to be seen to protect ordinary people and not just promote the interests of business and of a mobile, multilingual elite.
“It is urgent for the Union not to be seen as only benefiting businesses, but also employees,” he said, according to the text of his speech in Aachen, a historic city close to Germany’s border with the Netherlands and Belgium.
The voters’ message to the EU was “be stronger outside and be more caring inside”, Van Rompuy said.
Europe should protect not just “movers” but “stayers”, not just the educated who spoke foreign languages but all citizens, and support producers facing competition as well as consumers who want cheap goods, he said.
The 66-year-old, whose term ends in November, cautioned against some populist proposals, saying: “Protecting does not mean retreating behind our borders. It does not mean commercial protectionism either.”