A continent cursed by world wars has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“We must all turn our backs upon the horrors of the past. We must look to the future. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.” So said Winston Churchill, many years ago.
A Norwegian in the capital Oslo put the benefits of cooperation into context: “Looking back historically, there was a lot of unrest in Europe before the European Union. I think they have done a lot of good in preserving peace. They expanded and were able to stabilise Eastern Europe.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee gave its recognition to the pursuit over more than six decades of post-war reconciliation to consolidate democracy and human rights.
The breaking down of borders and reaching out got a second wind with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the removal of divisions which had split Europe into Cold War blocs of East and West.
Symbolic acts took pragmatic strides in 2004 when the European Union, grown out of the Economic Community and earlier the Coal and Steel pact, welcomed ten more members, eight of them former Communist states, then in 2007 two more. And others still are enacting reforms, to embrace common standards and values.
But challenges abound. People in the grip of austerity have little praise for integration: They curse the Nobel decision.
A critic in central Athens said: “It’s a joke. The EU is a hard, bureaucratic mechanism that protects nothing but banking capital. It is a group of capitalists working against the masses: awarding it a Peace Prize is a total joke.”
Europe today is a cauldron of anger, of people outraged at how politicians and systems have managed their economies.
One big, happy, peaceful family it is not. With integration under strain, Europeans have lost sight of common interests and benefits.
The rise of nationalism attests to this. In several countries come impassioned demands to break away from home nations: in the UK (Scotland), Spain (Catalonia and the Basque Country), Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia). And not only there. In extreme cases, such as the Greek political party Golden Dawn, sovereignty, identity and xenophobia make common cause.
So the Nobel Prize does not win unanimous approval, but while protesters object to faceless EU bureaucracy, this labyrynth of soft power has fostered a Europe free of war.
Now the European Union is going through the severest test to unity in its history. We’re hearing less of the adopted anthem ‘Ode to Joy’ these days, and so the award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the EU organisation is seized as a positive occasion for its most senior representatives to extol its ideals.
Euronews, with them in Oslo, asked for their views.
European Council President Herman van Rompuy said: “The real purpose of the EU: it was founded on reconciliation, on peace after two world wars. So I was surprised that people recognized the fundamental merits of the EU, even in those difficult days for the EU.”
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “We know by experience in war that populism and nationalism is a danger for peace. But, precisely, the EU is a project for peace above the differences of countries and I believe we can overcome this struggle against nationalism.”
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said: “I understand fully people who doubt about the EU. We are not in the best shape. But the idea of Europe that states and nations across borders create common institutions to manage the challenges of the 21st century as they did in the 20th century, the idea is incontestable.”
Stretched ideologically, politically and economically between its richer and poorer countries, the European Union is having a hard time demonstrating one of its core principles: solidarity. The Nobel committee encouraged it to persevere – ironic, perhaps, since the Norwegians have repeatedly rejected joining the EU themselves. Even important politicians make no secret of their reservations.
Our correspondent in Oslo, Isabelle Kumar, said: “In an apparent show of anti-EU sentiment, some leaders have chosen to stay away, among them the conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron – a decision seen as a bid to placate his increasingly eurosceptic party.”