A war cure yes - but what of fiscal misery?
The EU has worked wonders in a once battle-scarred continent. But can it beat the pain caused by years of austerity?
At a time of prolonged financial crisis and stringent austerity, critics claim the EU is an undeserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Are they correct?
For the Norwegian Nobel committee, the award marks something rather more profound than the vagaries of the union’s halting response to the debt debacle: its achievement over decades to consolidate peace and democracy in a war-scarred continent.
“We are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect,” committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland told the assembled leaders of Europe in Olso city hall. “We are gathered in the belief that here in Europe we must solve our problems together. For that purpose we need institutions that can enter into the necessary compromises.”
Critics argue the union’s response to the financial crisis is making life worse for the very people it serves. With millions of Europeans under economic siege, these are potent claims.
Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said the fiscal crisis had led the union to wage “class war” in Europe, with austerity the weapon of choice. “The EU is not a force for peace in the world, it is an instrument of the rich in pushing neoliberalism and militarisation.”
If this is part of the argument for the prosecution, it says nothing about the role of the EU and its forerunners in helping to bring a divided continent together after the second World War and the cold war.
Herman van Rompuy, the Belgian president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese chief of the European Commission each turned to personal history. “In 1940, my father, then 17, had to dig his own grave. He got away; otherwise I would not be here today,” said van Rompuy. While he said it cannot be known whether there would have been lasting peace without the EU, he argued it would not have had the same quality.
Barroso told of his own country’s struggle for democracy. “I remember vividly in 1974 being in the mass of people, descending the streets in my native Lisbon . . . celebrating the democratic revolution and freedom. This same feeling of joy was experienced by the same generation in Spain and Greece.”
The challenge they and all other European leaders confront is to bring about and cement recovery from the woes of today. Achievements in history are one thing. Whether the debt debacle can be overcome may be another defining test.