The European Union has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, for having "contributed for more than six decades to promote peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."
Although the announcement was naturally well received in Europe, it has also raised eyebrows and controversies. At a time of austerity and amid disunity among European countries, the public opinion is split and questions remain on whether the Union really deserves this prize.
The Nobel committee's choice came as a surprise because of the current economic slump in the EU. Shaken by the debt crisis in the Euro area, the continent has been plunged into a drastic austerity plan leading to social tensions and nationalism revivals. The crisis has revealed deep cracks in the European edifice, and highlighted discord among EU states members, whose solidarity has been seriously tested. In fact, the rich northern economies are reluctant to help southern countries, financially strangled by excessive public debt and subjected to unpopular austerity measures.
The sacrifices imposed on the people in the affected states like Greece or Spain have triggered tension, the rise of extremism all over the area and detached the citizens from the European project. Unemployment has soared in the zone and social misery has made a comeback. Now the people feel like their expectations are not taken into account. The European institution, which already suffers from its public image, has also been accused of confiscating sovereignty, putting people under guardianship and depriving them of the right to decide by themselves. Many voices were raised to denounce a bureaucratic institution that imposes austerity and allows poverty progression at the expense of social peace.
Abroad, the European Union is reproached of its inability to speak with one voice, particularly when it comes to take tough decisions as demonstrated during the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s or more recently with the case of Libya. Moreover, just after the Nobel Prize winner announcement, given how European leaders were each reacting on their side, most were wondering who will accept the award.
The Peace honor attribution to the EU also brought in light another paradox. Norway, the country allocator of the Peace Prize has always been reluctant to fully engage in the European project. Furthermore, the country has just re-affirmed that a EU membership was not on the table. A study conducted by Aftenposten has also revealed that only one in four Norwegian support the Nobel Committee’s decisions. So what’s the real reason behind this decision? According to the Norwegian Council for Peace (an organization uniting 23 organizations advocating for peace), it’s simply political. For the council Alfred Nobel Peace Prize was meant to reward someone who had worked for peace and considers it as a dishonor to his memory the fact that it has been given to the EU.
It would certainly have been preferable that the prize was awarded to the action of an individual rather than an institution in crisis and in which the unity is in trouble. But we cannot deny that the EU creation has helped stabilize a continent customary of conflicts and already devastated by two world wars.
Created in 1957 by six countries under the Treaty of Rome, the European Community has gradually grown to now represent 27 states. And contrary to what most people think, it only has power over the people within the limits of what the state members have granted to it. And though the Nobel committee choice can be questionable in many regards, maybe this time it’s just the recognition that — in these difficult times —the Union's failure to manage further integration could have serious implications for all Europeans.