Institutional Affairs

Pride, confusion and sour grapes after EU wins Nobel

13.10.12 @ 08:30

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU officials weary of being sniped at for their handling of the crisis or their big salaries got a morale boost on Friday (12 October) when the five people on the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Norway gave the world's most prestigious award to "the European Union."

  • Nobel awards gala: who will go to pick up the prize? (Photo: EUobserver)

Committee secretary Geir Lundestad told press in Oslo the EU got it for its "accumulated record over more than six decades ... it was about time."

He listed five achievements: Franco-German reconciliation after World War II; support for new democracies in Greece, Portugal and Spain in the 1980s; support for former Communist states in the 1990s; modernisation of Turkey; and peacebuilding in the Western Balkans.

Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland added that the timing of the award is linked to the euro gloom.

"We should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organisation ... If the euro fails, then the danger is that many other things will disintegrate as well, like the internal market and free borders. Then you will get nationalistic policies again. So it may set in motion a process which most Europeans would dislike," he said.

EU parliament President Martin Schulz was the quickest to react - 33 minutes after the news broke.

"It is a great honour ... We in the European Parliament are deeply touched," he said.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council head Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement shortly after "the European Union [is] an inspiration for leaders and citizens all over the world."

Van Rompuy in separate press remarks also called the EU "the biggest peacemaking institution ever created in world history."

Barroso spokesman Olivier Bailly fired off a series of tweets on how many people EU money has helped to save from Aids or hunger.

EU leaders, foreign ministers, prominent MEPs and former VIPs sent out similar messages.

Germany's Angela Merkel said the prize is "a spur ... We must work tirelessly and continue to strive for peace, democracy and freedom."

Octogenerian former chancellor Helmut Kohl said: "I am proud and I wish for God's blessing for us on our further path to a united Europe." His French counterpart, Jacques Delors, said: "I am very emotional."

Meanwhile, inside EU institutions in Brussels some meetings broke off as directors dug out bottles of champagne.

But amid the celebrations, there is some confusion on who the prize is really for and who will go to Oslo on 10 December to pick it up.

Barroso, Schulz and Van Rompuy paid heed to the fact peace in Europe is a much bigger story than just that of EU institution-building set in train by people such as Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet. They said the prize is "for all EU citizens ... for the project." Merkel said it is for the EU as an "idea."

Despite the sentiments, EU personalities quickly began to jostle for the limelight.

Barroso posed for a photo opportunity getting flowers from the Norwegian ambassador to the EU and Schulz' communique ended with a pitch for him to be on stage when the gong is handed out. "On behalf of the European Parliament, we, together with the other EU institutions, look forward to receiving the Nobel peace prize in Oslo," he said.

For her part, Polish centre-right MEP Lena Kolarska-Bobinska said the prize should be received by civil society leaders. Home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said it should be picked up by 27 children, one from each EU country.

Malmstrom also noted the prize usually goes to individuals who put their lives at risk to help others rather than to powerful institutions.

The other finalists this year were Belarusian and Russian dissidents, a Mexican bishop who stood up to drug lords, an Afghan women's rights campaigner and an Egyptian slum charity worker, some of whom are in jail.

"My first thoughts: most welcome, unexpected, important. Unexpected, naturally, as there are so many across the globe fighting for peace and democracy, who also deserve this prize - dissidents and organisations fighting an uphill battle," the Swedish commissioner said in her blog.

The Nobel committee's Lundestad also noted that "some people will find the award controversial," not least Norwegians, where "support for the EU is at an all time low."

The line up of detractors was dominated by professional eurosceptics.

Irish anti-EU campaigner Declan Ganley tweeted the prize money should be given to "failing bank bondholders" because that is where EU bailout cash "ends up ... anyway." Dutch MP Geert Wilders said: "At a time Brussels and all of Europe is collapsing in misery. What next? An Oscar for Van Rompuy?"

Spanish-born MEP Marta Andreasen said: "The EU and it's [austerity] policies are directly responsible for widespread public disorder and rioting in Greece and Spain."

British centre-right MEP Martin Callanan said "The Nobel Peace Prize was [already] devalued when it was given to newly-elected [US President] Barack Obama [in 2009]."

Obama at the time had just taken up office. In his post-Nobel-win years, he kept up hawkish US practices, such as using drones to kill "terrorists" in Pakistan or Yemen.

Several people, including former British foreign minister Malcolm Rifkind, said Nato has done more to keep the peace than the Union. Others noted that while the EU spends billions on aid, its trade policies support predatory multinational firms, such as oil and mining companies in Africa.

But some EU critics greeted the news with surprising good cheer.

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss, better known for exposing how industry lobbyists distort EU legislation, said: "The Union has helped cement peace in Europe ... We now look to Europe's leaders to play a truly transformative role on the environmental stage."

Human Rights Watch EU chief Lotte Leicht, better known for attacks on EU relations with dictators, said: "This prize is a recognition of the EU's contribution to democracy and human rights."

"At the same time ... its voice must be heard loud and clear around the world exposing rights abusers and raising the price for human rights crimes, even when the abuser is financially and politically powerful," she added.

The original text said Decland Ganley had tweeted that EU bailout money goes to investment bankers. In fact, he said it goes to "failing bank bondholders"

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