An unsurprising surprise: the European Union awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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An unsurprising surprise: the European Union awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

Friday, 12 October 2012
It may have come as a surprise announcement in light of recent instances of social unrest and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, but it is unsurprising if you remember the ideals and intentions of its founding fathers: the European Union has today been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

Announcing the award in Oslo, Norway, Thorbjørn Jagland the Chairman of the Nobel Committee said thatthe union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

In Brussels, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso was delighted and hailed the award as "justified recognition for the unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and the world”.

A short distance away in the European Parliament, the award was (bizarrely) met with laughter from Conservative MEPs, with South West MEP Julie Girling telling BBC Radio Bristol that it was a “late April Fool’s joke” (from 2:15:30, audio available until 19 October).

Asked if she was proud of the EU's award, Mrs Girling replied: “Proud? No! I wondered if it was April fool’s day to be honest!"

"This is just a political issue here, I cannot imagine what has enticed the largely Norwegian and Swedish board to make this decision, but whatever it is must have been pretty powerful stuff because how on earth can we say that the European Union at this stage is responsible for peace when we have got people rioting on the streets of Greece and Madrid as a direct result of failed EU/Eurozone economic policies," she said. This prompted presenter John Darvall to remark “you’re sounding a bit UKIP-py here and I thought Conservatives would have been rather pleased at the fact Winston Churchill was very much at the foundation of what was the Treaty of Rome”. Ouch.

But Conservative MEP Ashley Fox appeared on BBC Radio Cornwall this evening and expressed a pragmatic and rather different view to Mrs Girling. Here is the transcript of the passage: (from 35:30, audio available until 19 October) (emphasis added by me)

"I was a little surprised at that but hey Barack Obama won it a couple of years ago when it had been in office a few weeks. I think we have to recognise that the EU has played a part in reconciling France and Germany; between 1870 and 1945 they went to war three times with increasingly devastating effect and the fact there has not been a war between those two countries since 1945 is a good thing and I do think the EU has played a part in bringing in the countries from Eastern Europe. So yes I do think the EU is a force for good in the world, but whether it’s worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? I find that quite a surprising decision but hey let’s not be too begrudging. I don’t think this prize is anything to do with the current eurocrisis, which I have to say is a huge problem for the EU and I’m not sure there is going to be a happy ending. I think as the Nobel Peace Prize committee said, this is a reflection on six decades of work, and if you look at the work the EU has done since 1958 when the original EEC was founded, it has done good work. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves fans of the EU would say yeah it is a force for good in the world.

For Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, the prestigious prize “should be seen as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the reasons why we are a member of the European Union; to never see a return to the dark days of nationalism that led to the slaughter on the fields of Northern Europe and to the barbaric scenes of the holocaust. Peace and prosperity, these are the ideals that underpin the EU.

"Over 60 years of unbroken peace between the old tribes of Europe, that is an achievement more than worthy of the Nobel peace prize,he continued. “Everyone in Britain should be proud because we have played our part in turning Europe from a continent of war and division into one of peace and unity.

"Some will question the timing of this award given the current levels of unemployment and economic uncertainty across Europe. But this award is not for the past 12 months but for the [six] decades of stability.

For me, the timing was indeed unexpected, but opposition to the award from eurosceptics and others alike shows the extent that we – European citizens - take the peace, the freedoms and the achievements of the European Union for granted. I am fortunate to be young enough never to have experienced war on European soil and the thought of France and Germany – or any two European states come to that – going to war today is unthinkable. This was, let us not forget, the prime motivation of the founding fathers and so the award is therefore thoroughly merited – the timing is irrelevant.

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