Friday, 12 October 2012

Does the EU deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

What a day to be away from Brussels! I'm in Barcelona this weekend, but awoke this morning to the news that the European Union has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. I'll admit, I had to do a double-take after reading that news.

This is another deliberately provocative move by the Nobel committee, following last year's selection of Barack Obama. Like last year's choice, this one is going to have its share of critics.

The Nobel committee seems to have adopted a strategy of trying to aid well-intentioned people/institutions at a time when they're down on their luck. When they chose Obama, he was in a weak position domestically, showing the scars of the healthcare fight. And obviously, it goes without saying, the EU is also in a difficult place right now. The awards seem to be almost like a pep talk - don't get discouraged, keep hope.

And yet many of the uncomfortable contradictions are still there. Many questioned how a US president currently waging a war in Afghanistan and a secret drone war in Pakistan could be awarded a prize for peace. Several EU member states are also participating in the Afghan war, including Britain and France (though France is about to pull out). Of course the Nobel Committee would likely argue that this is member states, not the EU itself.

But one criticism of the Obama award that cannot be used against this year's award is that "he hasn't done anything yet".

In announcing the award, Nobel committee president Thorbjoern Jagland recited the list of achievements over the EU's six decades of existence, advancing "peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights".

The EU was finally able to reconcile France and Germany after World War II, solving a problem that had resulted in four wars that had devastated Europe since 1860. The EU brought Europe to a point today where war on the continent seems inconceivable (though recent events have caused some to question this common logic).

The EU ushered the Southern European dictatorships of Spain, Portugal and Greece into democracy after their authoritarian regimes collapsed in the 1970s. And in the 1990s, the EU helped Eastern European post-communist states emerge from decades of brutal repression. That is no small feat and it's something the EU can be immensely proud of.

Now the EU is trying to help the Balkan countries emerge from their dark period of war and violence in the 1990s. Croatia will become an EU member state next year. Yes, the fact that those Balkan wars were allowed to happen in the EU's backyard, and we're only ended when the American stepped in, is a shameful stain on Europe'a conscience and it's dignity. But a stronger EU probably would have dealt with that crisis better. It was the foot-dragging of member states, who are sovereign in military matters, that exascerbated that crisis. The EU had little to no power in areas of defends and diplomacy at that time, and it still doesn't.

But Jagland also stressed in his speech the danger that the EU faces today - that the entire project could collapse and endanger all that's. Even achieved. "The main message is that we need to keep in mind what we have achieved on this continent, and not let the continent go into disintegration again," he said. He warned that the collapse of the EU could lead to a resurgence of the "extremism and nationalism" and "awful wars".

Criticism

Criticism of the decision was swift and furious from both the Eurosceptic right and the Eurosceptic Left. The British Tories were incandescent with rage.

Martin Callanan, the head of the British Conservatives in the European Parliament, called the award "sycophantic".

“The Nobel Peace Prize was devalued when it was given to newly-elected Barack Obama," he said in a statement. "By giving the prize to the EU the Nobel committee has undermined the excellent work of the other deserving winners of this prize.”

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said, "The EU may be getting the booby prize for peace because it
sure hasn't created prosperity. The EU has created poverty and unemployment for millions."

Angry reaction came from the left as well, particularly in Southern Europe. A spokesperson for Greece's main opposition party Syriza told the Guardian this morning, “this decision cheapens the prize and more importantly harms the institution of the Nobel Peace award. I just cannot understand what the reasoning would be behind it. In many parts of Europe, but especially in Greece we are experiencing what really is a war situation on a daily basis albeit a war that has not been formally declared. There is nothing peaceful about it.”

This is a perception Jagland couldn't ignore when he announced the award this morning. He was sked what citizens from Greece, Spain and Ireland would think of this decision. He said, "I think this historic empathy still remains in the heads of so many Europeans. They don't want to lose what has been achieved. Many may criticise the current policy but that is a different matter."

More moderate voices across Europe have welcomed the decision, including Brtains's Liberal Democrats who are in coalition with the Tories. Others have pointed goths huge amount of foreign aid given out by the EU (much more than is given by the US).

I haven't heard any reaction from the US government yet but I suspect they will be pleased. The Obama administration has been a great champion of the EU, as expressed in previous visits by Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

Though for the US media, I doubt this will get much attention.

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