The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union comes not only a surprise to the EU itself, it provides a much-needed morale boost for the institution in the midst of its biggest ever crisis.
With recession and the eurozone’s debt ravaging many countries’ economies, causing much division and unrest, EU leaders have been quick to welcome the announcement.
“We are proud that the European Union is the world’s largest provider of development assistance and humanitarian aid, and is as also at the forefront of global efforts to protect our planet through the fight against climate change and to promote global public goods,” said the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.
“The award today by the Nobel Committee shows that even in these difficult times, the European Union remains an inspiration for countries and people all over the world and that the international community needs a strong European Union,” he went on.
The Nobel committee took a long-term view of the EU’s achievements: peace and reconciliation after world wars, integrating Eastern bloc countries and promoting stability in the Balkans.
“This is the recognition for the work of our predecessors and of all our citizens during the last six decades. And it is our responsibility, of prime ministers and other European leaders, to pursue this work so that the future generation can still have all the benefits of the European Union,” said Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council which represents the EU’s heads of state or government.
For the President of the European Parliament the award is also a vindication of its work. Martin Schulz said the Nobel Peace Prize was for all EU citizens.
“I believe this is an appeal to all of us: continue creating Europa and don’t destroy it! I think the Nobel Prize Committee noted the European Parliament’s catalogue of values standing for this cohesion of Europe. Surely that played a role (in their decision),” he said.
Previous Nobel Peace Prize winners have sometimes been controversial and the European Union may be no exception.
Critics who say its institutions are bureaucratic and undemocratic may be dismayed.
But the EU’s supporters will welcome the recognition of its contribution to modern European history – and the diversion from current crises.