The Nobel Peace Prize

Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy respond to the announcement of the award.

Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy respond to the announcement of the award.

Most observers were surprised when the Nobel Committee awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union on Friday. Newspapers from across the continent described the decision as “surprising,” “strange,” “timely,” and even “shocking.” Few anticipated the award.

In an editorial in Belgium’s La Libre Belgique, Oliver le Bussy argued that “the Nobel committee wanted to remind people that the European project… has had a civilising effect, making a large contribution to turning ancient enemies into partners and spreading democracy and human rights.” Spain’s El Pais echoed this sentiment, arguing that the prize provided “moral support and encouragement to overcome individual nations’ reservations, which impede decisive progress” towards greater integration, including “naturally, political union.”

Some, however, were more skeptical. The British papers provided a wide range of criticism. But perhaps the most powerful critique was Thomas Kirchner’s piece in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, in which he describes the EU as a “ quarreling bunch of more or less bankrupt states” and says the Nobel committee “must be careful if it wants its decisions to be taken seriously for much longer.”

And the British newspaper The Guardian offered perhaps the most humorous take.

Was the Nobel Committee off course in its decision? The answer depends on your time frame of analysis. Certainly the European Union has been plagued by fiscal crises over the past several years. Its inability to develop a coherent response to the Greek crisis (let alone to respond in a meaningful way to Portugal and Spain) raise real concerns about the future of the organization.

But the history of the European Union deserve recognition. As the European Union positions itself increasingly as a single market with a single currency, it’s easy to forget the roots of the organization in the aftermath of World War II. At that time, the primary focus of European integration was simple: prevent war between Germany and France. Guided by the principles of institutional liberalism, the founders of the European Union sought to expand political, social, and above all economic cooperation between Germany and France in an effort to prevent future wars.

And from this perspective, the Nobel Peace Prize makes much more sense. The thought of war between Germany and France—really between any two members of the European Union—appears laughable today. So while the European Union struggles with fiscal recovery and economic reconstruction, it is important to remember roots as an institution of international political stability.

Still, there were many others who might have won the award. CNN’s Frida Ghitis described the decision as a “missed opportunity” and contended the award could have been more productive in achieving its goal of promoting international peace had it been awarded to someone else. She singles out Malalal Yousafzani, the 14 year old Pakistani girl shot by Talibani militants for advocating education for girls, as particularly worthy. Ahead of the decision, the bookmaking site NicerOdds was giving best odds to Gene Sharp, a political theorist of nonviolence, and Sima Samar, chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan.

What do you think? Did the Nobel Committee did it make the right decision in recognizing the organization’s history? Or did it miss the mark in awarding the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union? And who do you think should have won the award? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment or answering the poll question below.


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