A reminder of postwar Europe's signal achievement
The Nobel award must be read as a plea to EU leaders to dig deeper to solve the union’s crisis, writes ARTHUR BEESLEY, European Correspondent
AS THE EU struggles to overcome its gravest crisis in six decades of political integration, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize serves as a reminder of its signal achievement: the consolidation of peace in Europe.
With the single currency still on the rocks and many millions of Europeans under economic siege, it may seem dubious for the EU to be singled out now for its unique contribution to world stability.
Not only is the euro under existential threat, but the response to the crisis has brought deep-rooted tensions to the fore that EU leaders would rather not confront.
The Nobel award comes amid an increasingly painful austerity drive, anxiety about policy overreach from Brussels and the certainty of more to come on both these fronts. With resolution of the debacle as elusive as ever, the imbroglio has highlighted the flaws and deficiencies of the European way more than anything else.
Into this morass steps the Nobel committee of Norway, a country that sees fit to stay outside the EU, with a demand for perspective. Far from the relentless firefight over debts, deficits and banks, the committee calls for earnest reflection on the EU’s work to create “fraternity between nations”. The implicit message is that none of this should be taken for granted at all.
In doing so, the committee points to the bloodied history the EU and its forerunners were set up to overcome. Although war in Europe and its tragic toll linger in living memory, the citation for the prize duly notes that the notion of military conflict between France and Germany has come to be unthinkable.
The lesson is clear. The Nobel committee did not award the peace prize between 1939 and 1943, likewise between 1914 and 1916. That the prize went to the Red Cross in 1944 and 1917 recalls the suffering of those hard times.
“In the inter-war years, the Norwegian Nobel committee made several awards to persons who were seeking reconciliation between Germany and France. Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality,” says the citation. “This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.”
The citation notes the admission in the 1980s of Greece, Spain and Portugal, countries that turned to democracy after military rule or dictatorship.
It also notes the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the reunification of Germany and the accession of eight former Eastern bloc countries in 2004. It adds that the admission next year of Croatia and the prospect of membership for Montenegro and Serbia strengthens the process of reconciliation in the Balkans.
All of this is the stuff of lofty ideal, the attachment to the rule of law and democracy and the recognition that national self-interest is best served by good neighbourly relations.
But the debt emergency demonstrates that the European system is inherently messy. If the union’s convoluted bureaucracy and labyrinthine procedures seem far from the high moral aspiration at the heart of the project, they symbolise it for many.
For all the doubt about the EU’s power to settle the crisis, the Nobel committee says there is still something bigger at work here than endless dead-of-night politicking and undercooked compromises.
The committee cannot evade making the observation that the EU is undergoing “grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest”, something that saps confidence in the enterprise.
Although its award must be read as a public plea to the union’s leaders to dig deeper, the EU and its inbuilt capacity for solidarity is under strain now as never before.