Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

EU Got the Nobel Peace Prize for the Past, the Present and the Future

Adelina Marini, December 12, 2012

While the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was taking place in Oslo, euinside asked on its Facebook page the question that was most frequently asked ever since the Nobel Peace Committee decided to award the European Union the peace prize - is it deserved? In the first hours of the question, the largest number of supporters drew the option "I don't know", followed closely by "No, because the EU has failed in the Balkans" and "Yes, because the EU has succeeded in preserving peace on the continent". The last two answers were the two options euinside proposed, leaving the options open. These two answers were based on the main arguments in the debate in the public domain on whether the EU deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

The fact that people added by themselves "I don't know" and that this option remained with huge support deserves special attention, especially given the fact that that answer was proposed by the Bulgarian readers of euinside. Among the other options added by readers were:
"No, because the EU does not deserve this prize - there were better candidates",
"Yes, because when there is no fish crab is fish too",
"Peace is not science. Why should there be such a prize in the first place?"
"The EU has failed in the Middle East - it does not deserve the prize",
"The EU contradicts to the values of the prize",
"No, because the EU encourages social-economic genocide in a number of countries".

In Alfred Nobel's will from 27th of November 1895, on the issue of establishment of the prize as part of the five elements which Mr Nobel wanted his wealth to be spent on, the following is written: "... and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses".

Does the EU deserve the prize?

The answer to many of the above mentioned questions and opinions is contained in the very impressive and containing a lot of personal emotions speeches of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, although the championship of really responding to all questions speech holds Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Nobel Committee and Secretary General of the Council of Europe. His speech is an attempt to balance between criticisms and merits - precisely what the EU of today is.

On the 10th of December 2012 Herman Van Rompuy said: "If I had to explain it to Alfred Nobel, I would say: not just a peace congress, a perpetual peace congress!"

According to Thorbjorn Jagland, the EU deserves the prize because after two world wars that sparked from the continent, in 1951 began a process of reconciliation between the two key for the peace on the continent states - France and Germany - and not through some kind of a peace treaty but through something much more serious, which Jose Manuel Barroso will define more than 60 years later as "genius" - the establishment of the Coal and Steel Community. In his declaration of 9th of May 1950 French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman explains the need of the creation of that community like this: "By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realisation of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace". It is precisely for this that the EU deserves the prize, because it succeeded with "the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies".

It is possible today many people, who have not lived through the horrors of war, to find that pompous and even unreal today. But is that so, if we remember that the continent endured its first big shock after a few decades of peace and unification - the Balkan wars in the end of the 20th century. Or against the backdrop of the developments in the Middle East and North Africa? And this is the biggest accusation of the critics of the Nobel Peace Committee. Thorbjorn Jagland responds: "Not everything was settled yet, however. With the fall of communism an old problem returned: the Balkans. Tito’s authoritarian rule had kept a lid on the many ethnic conflicts. When that lid was lifted, violent conflicts blazed up again the like of which we had thought we would never see again in a free Europe".

And he counted them: five wars that took place in the course of only a few years. "We will never forget Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslims were massacred in a single day", Jagland added. He showed the other side of the coin as well: "Now, however, the EU is seeking to lay the foundations for peace also in the Balkans. Slovenia joined the EU in 2004. Croatia will become a member in 2013. Montenegro has opened membership negotiations, and Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been given candidate status. The Balkans were and are a complicated region. Unresolved conflicts remain. Suffice it to mention that the status of Kosovo is still not finally settled. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a state that hardly functions owing to the veto the three population groups have become entitled to exercise against each other".

Is the EU guilty for not having prevented these wars? Probably a lot of things could have been done in a different way. Probably the war could have been prevented but this might have not been possible as well. We will never know. What we know, however, is that at the moment these countries are going through remarkable social and political transformation which, if their European integration passes successfully, will lay the foundations of new Balkans for which the "powder keg" will probably remain only an archaic cliché.

Some Bulgarian reader of euinside are determined that the EU does not deserve the prize because it let a violent civil war in Syria. "As a community of nations that has overcome war and fought totalitarianism, we will always stand by those who are in pursuit of peace and human dignity. And let me say it from here today: the current situation in Syria is a stain on the world's conscience and the international community has a moral duty to address it", Jose Manuel Barroso acknowledged without, however, pointing to what has the Union done or not done. His words will hardly be comforting for the hundreds of thousands refugees fleeing Syria. According to the latest data by UNHCR the refugees amount to more than half a million people.

But the EU's unique case that stemmed from the will for reconciliation of France and Germany shows that peace is possible when all sides have will. According to Herman Van Rompuy, peace today is self-evident. "So what a bold bet it was, for Europe's Founders, to say, yes, we can break this endless cycle of violence, we can stop the logic of vengeance, we can build a brighter future, together. What power of the imagination. I can see many other stirring images before me.Leaders of six States assembled to open a new future, in Rome, città eterna … Willy Brandt kneeling down in Warsaw. The dockers of Gdansk, at the gates of their shipyard. Mitterrand and Kohl hand in hand. Two million people linking Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius in a human chain, in 1989. These moments healed Europe".

After the prize

For me, who was born and raised during the Cold War, these words are shaking. I still cannot stop celebrating the freedom I have now to jump in the car and drive to Vienna for a coffee. Just because I can. And I still tremble with fear from the smallest indication that totalitarianism of the kind before 1989 could come back and I that I might lose my freedom again. For today's generation, however, Europe is a fact. Even worse, actually - Europe takes away jobs, wages, mortgages, Europe takes away sovereignty and national dignity and pride. Exactly for its efforts to tackle the crisis the Nobel Committee believes that the EU deserves the peace prize - for its future efforts, against the backdrop of the financial crisis, to deal with the "new protectionism, new nationalism, with the risk that the ground gained would be lost", as Mr Jagland explained.

"The frescos on the walls here in the Oslo City Hall are inspired by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescos from the 1300s in the Siena town hall, named "Allegory of the effects of good government". The fresco shows a living medieval town, with the gates in the wall invitingly wide open to spirited people bringing the harvest in from fruitful fields. But Lorenzetti painted another picture: "Allegory of the effects of bad government". It shows Siena in chaos, closed and ravaged by the plague, destroyed by a struggle for power and war. The two pictures are meant to remind us that it is up to ourselves whether or not we are to live in well-ordered circumstances", Jagland said and in the end of his speech he wished Europe good governance to win.

And good governance is being built at the moment. Only a few days after the moving ceremony in Oslo, the EU has to go urgently back to the tasks that do cannot be delayed. In the end of the week, on December 13-14, the EU leaders will meet for their last summit for this year to decide how much more Europe they can pour into their joint cocktail they have been mixing for over 60 years now. The symbol of unity, as European politicians love to say, is the euro. "We stand by it", said Barroso on December 10th. Now it is up to the leaders to pledge the reforms, proposed by Herman Van Rompuy.

But they are facing the strong pressure of discontent at home. In the past 2-3 years protests across Europe have become something usual against the austerity measures, against the "lazy Greeks" and in general the sluggish southerners, the nationalistic parties have gained a lot of ground and are now threatening the calm and even boring status quo of the leading political parties. But before we wave our hand and say - then let Greece out of the eurozone - it is worth deliberating on something very important. In the margins of a conference, dedicated to the Balkans, which took place earlier this year in Sofia, Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt explained very well the case of Greece, asked about how the country misled its EU partners:

"Then, if you remember, the European Commission was rather sceptic in terms of Greece, but the decision was taken by the then European Community Greece to be allowed to become a member. I think this was the right decision because then what was important was to import stability and democracy in southern Europe. We had the same issue with Spain, with Portugal. So, the enlargement process brought stability and democracy and this was right. But then, of course, we had to look deeper into the subsequent years - the politicians of Greece, the bankers, the bureaucrats in Brussels, all had to look better into the numbers and I think that the lessons have been learnt by the Greeks themselves".

So, there is another way to look at things - now it's hard, true, but it was even harder and for the sake of "never again" it is very important how are we going to move forward. Will we blame this abstract EU which we are in fact an essential part of, or will we agree that we can wait for another few decades until all EU countries, that have set out from different starting points, will greet themselves not only with preserving peace but also with recovering prosperity? This is a decision that is your personal choice. Can you imagine not having the right to take such a decision? I can.

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