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OSLO: The Nobel Peace Prize was yesterday awarded to the European Union, an institution wracked by the euro crisis but credited with bringing more than half a century of peace to a continent ripped apart by two world wars.
“The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe,” Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said in Oslo.
Shortly after the prize announcement, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso described the award as “a tremendous honour”.
“This prize is the strongest possible recognition of the deep political motives behind our Union: the unique effort by ever more European states to overcome war and divisions and to jointly shape a continent of peace and prosperity,” they said in a joint statement.
The prize, they said, was “not just for the project and the institutions embodying a common interest, but for the 500 million citizens living in our union.”
However, online the Nobel Committee’s decision to hand the prize to a union of states beleaguered by a severe financial crisis, sparked strong reactions from some on Twitter. “Anti-austerity protests in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy & France, Nationalism, Fascism, unemployment and poverty. Yeah EU deserves it!” @AnonOpGreece said on Twitter.
British eurosceptics also reacted with dismay, and Poland’s Lech Walesa, who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, said he was “unpleasantly surprised” by the choice.
The prize for the EU came as a surprise at a time when European solidarity is facing its most daunting challenge in decades amid deep rifts between a south drowning in debt and a wealthier north, led by Germany, only reluctantly coming to the rescue.
Whether or not that begrudging assistance will keep the European project afloat remains to be seen, but the deep crisis has broadened the gulf already felt between citizens in the different member states and a Brussels long seen as too distant and bureaucratic.
“The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest,” Jagland acknowledged yesterday, stressing that the Nobel jury had wanted “to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.”
The creation of the union is credited with helping to bring peace and stability to the war-torn continent by bringing together former arch-enemies France and Germany and herding them down the same path.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces harsh criticism from debt-laden southern Europe for fronting the push for punishing austerity measures, yesterday hailed the EU’s win and insisted efforts to save the euro were also aimed at ensuring peace on the continent.
“The euro is more than a currency because at the end of the day it is about the original idea of a union of peace and of values,” she told reporters. Britain’s Foreign Office meanwhile urged the EU to make further progress.
It noted that the prize honoured the EU for its peace and reconciliation efforts, particularly through its enlargement to central and eastern Europe, and said “the EU must always strive to preserve and strengthen those achievements for the future.”