Amid criticism, EU receives Nobel Peace Prize

More than 20 top EU leaders attended today's awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. But critics say the EU's win, coming amid the financial crisis, is inappropriate.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
The audience listen as President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso delivers a speech during the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at City Hall in Oslo today. The European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday, honored by the Norwegian committee which looked beyond Europe's current malaise to recognize its decades of stability and democracy after the horrors of two world wars.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates defended the contested decision to give the prize to the European Union and promised it would emerge stronger from the ongoing social unrest and protests in its member states.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the EU the prize for its work representing “fraternity between nations” and acting as a “peace congress,” among the criteria for the prize in Alfred Nobel’s will. Critics, however, including members of Norway’s ruling government, have called the EU an unworthy winner because of member states’ weapon exports and the ill timing of the prize, given Europe's current fiscal crisis.

“Parents struggling to make ends meet, workers recently laid off, students who fear that, however hard they try, they won’t get their first job: When they think about Europe, peace is not the first thing that comes to mind,” said Herman Van Rompuy, European Council president, in his Nobel lecture before more than 20 top EU leaders and hundreds of dignitaries at the Oslo City Hall award ceremony.

“The presence of so many European leaders here today underlines our common conviction: that we will come out of this together. Together and stronger,” he added.  The top leaders of Sweden, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Czech Republic, and the UK were among the few not to attend.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, continued the shared Nobel lecture by highlighting the EU’s efforts outside the 27 member states in helping to bring about a “global order in the making.” In his speech, he cited in particular the EU’s principles of “global solidarity and global responsibility,” which had driven its leadership in the fight against climate change and food and energy security, and underpinned its policies on disarmament and against nuclear proliferation.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The laureates’ address follows yesterday’s protest demonstration in Oslo led by the Norwegian Peace Council, during which about 700 people marched by torchlight in the cold winter night against the worthiness of the EU as a peace prize recipient. The peaceful protest represented 50 Norwegian and international organizations, including members of Norway’s coalition government of Center and Socialist Left parties – who are against Norway joining the EU – and Dimitris Kodelas, parliamentary member of the Greek leftist party Syriza.

“When we heard that the Nobel Prize for Peace would be given to the European Union, we first thought it was joke,” said Mr. Kodelas. “Especially because this comes in days when many of the peoples of south Europe are living with the results of the financial war, and these countries are turning into colonies of debt with deprived citizens and looted national wealth.”

“One-third of the society in Greece is below or at the edge of poverty. Is it possible that the initiators of this situation are given awards?” he asked.

The staunchly pro-EU Thorbjørn Jagland, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman and former Labour party prime minister, countered questions over the timing of the prize. “In light of the financial crisis that is affecting so many innocent people, we can see that the political framework in which the union is rooted is more important than ever,” he said in his presentation speech, prior to handing over the peace prize diploma and medal.

“Demonstrations are a part of our democracy,” he added. “The task of politics is to transform the protesters and protests into concrete political actions.”

“We are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect," he stated. "We are gathered in the belief that here in Europe we must solve our problems together.”

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