Europe changed from 'continent of war to a continent of peace'
By Benjamin Fox
Norway's former prime minister and Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland awarded the EU the Nobel Peace prize on Monday (10 December), praising the bloc for its role in transforming Europe from "a continent of war to a continent of peace."
Jagland spoke at a presentation ceremony in Oslo attended by the Presidents of the three main EU institutions and featuring speeches from Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, the heads of the European Council and the European Commission, respectively.
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Van Rompuy told the audience of international dignitaries that the EU's "secret" was "an unrivalled way of binding our interests so tightly that war becomes materially impossible. Through constant negotiations, on ever more topics, between ever more countries. It's the golden rule of Jean Monnet: "Mieux vaut se disputer autour d'une table que sur un champ de bataille ['Better fight around a table than on a battle-field']."
"For this, boring politics is only a small price to pay," he added.
However, in a nod to the impact of the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis on record levels of unemployment and recession, he noted that the crisis is "causing great hardship among our people, and putting the political bonds of our Union to the test."
"Parents struggling to make ends meet, workers recently laid off, students who fear that, however hard they try, they won't get that first job: when they think about Europe, peace is not the first thing that comes to mind," he commented.
Meanwhile, Barroso said that the EU would secure the future of the euro, commenting that "one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone's hands. It is the Euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it."
The award has caused consternation amongst eurosceptics as well as a section of peace activists and even fellow Nobel laureate archbishop Desmond Tutu.
On Sunday (9 December) the Norwegian Peace Council led 700 activists from over 50 international peace organisations through the streets of Oslo in protest at the award.
Some campaigners say that the provisions on security and defence policy in the EU treaties do not commit the bloc to de-militarisation.
Earlier Jagland had faced down criticism of the award, stating that "we are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect."
Diplomatic wrangling about who would receive the award dominated the weeks following the announcement in October.
After suggestions from Swedish Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom that children from across the 27-member states should receive the medal, a compromise was brokered, with Van Rompuy and Barroso getting to make the acceptance speeches, while Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament, on stage but not speaking.
The ceremony was attended by 20 EU leaders, with British Prime Minister David Cameron among a handful who chose to stay away.
For its part, the centre-right European People's Party got in the Nobel mood by minting replica medals for its 285 MEPs.
The medals raised eyebrows in Brussels because an embossed map of Europe included several non-EU countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, had a black hole for Switzerland, and omitted EU members Cyprus and Malta.