A Nobel Prize for an Imperfect Union

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    Dec 10, 2012

    Peace is not a word that would necessarily be associated with the European political landscape these days.

    Yet today, at least 20 out of 27 European heads of state and three heads of the European Union (Council, Commission, and Parliament) are in Norway to witness the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union “for over six decades having contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

    As these leaders assemble in Oslo, we will again be reminded of Europe’s institutional and political complexity. No less than three EU officials are accepting the award; two leaders—European Council president Herman Von Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso—are giving speeches.

    Perhaps it would be appropriate that German chancellor Angela Merkel accept the honor as German taxpayers will increasingly bear the cost of “an ever closer” union.  She has called the award “an inducement and an obligation at the same time.”  Was she referring to Germany or the European Union?  For Germany, the future financial cost (and benefit) of peace will be great.

    Or maybe the award should be accepted by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, and seemingly the only figure in Europe able to prevent eminent economic collapse. As he has just downgraded Europe’s economic growth forecasts for 2013, his acceptance speech might be a bit tough on Europe’s leaders.

    More from CNN: Why Europe deserved the Peace Prize

    Although the Norwegian Nobel committee has always worked in mysterious ways—recall that U.S. president Barack Obama was awarded the prize in 2009, 10 months into his first term—the award offers an opportune moment to recall that the European integration project was designed “to make war materially impossible.”

    In its earnest beginning in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community, economics—be it coal, steel, and eventually a currency, the euro—were the means by which war in Europe was prevented. Ironically, 60 years later, the means that sought to further the peace project are now jeopardizing it. When awarding the prize, Nobel committee chair Torbjørn Jagland noted that “There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating.”

    By giving the award to the European Union—with euro zone unemployment 11.7 percent, Greece entering its sixth year of recession, and the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia demanding independence from Spain—a reminder is being delivered to Europe and the United States in particular that we cannot take for granted the irreversibility of this project despite its extraordinary success of joining 500 million people together in a common market that is America’s closest ally and greatest trade and investment partner.

    But the award must also be a reminder to Europe that peace is strongly eroded when a Hungarian parliamentarian suggests that Jews are a threat to national security; when immigrants are beaten in Greece with the approval of a Greek political party; and Roma are expelled from France. These are the darker consequences of a deepening economic crisis and the politics of fear.

    So today, we congratulate the European Union on this prestigious award, and we celebrate Europe on a day when it is recognized for its founding tenet: peace, and not its common currency. May the Nobel Peace Prize serve as a reminder to Europe that peace demands great political leadership and courage—and it comes at great cost.

    And although cynics might suggest that the $1.2 million prize should go toward the financial rescue of Europe, it is good to note that the money will actually go to support children impacted by war. Fittingly, as those who accept the Nobel Prize today were once the children of war.

    (This Commentary originally appeared in the December 10, 2012, issue of CNN Global Public Square.)

    Heather A. Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

    Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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