From war to peace: a European tale
This is an abridged version of the Nobel Lecture that Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Durão Barroso, Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, delivered in Oslo on behalf of the European Union at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
War is as old as Europe. Our continent bears the scars of spears and swords, canons and guns, trenches and tanks, and more. Yet after two terrible wars engulfed the continent and the world with it, peace came to Europe.
In the grey post-war days, the hearts of many were still simmering with mourning and resentment. So what a bold bet it was, for Europe's Founders, to say; 'yes, we can break this endless cycle of violence, we can stop the logic of vengeance and build a brighter future, together'.
Of course, peace might have come to Europe without the Union. Maybe. But it would never have been of the same quality. A lasting peace, not a frosty cease-fire.
Reconciliation is what makes this peace so special. It goes beyond forgiving and forgetting, or simply turning the page. Adenauer and De Gaulle in the Cathedral of Reims: it is one of those stirring images that healed post-war Europe.
Other images too come to mind. Six States assembled to open a new future in Rome. Willy Brandt kneeling down in Warsaw. The dockers of Gdansk, gathering in protest. Mitterrand and Kohl hand in hand. Rostropovich playing Bach at the fallen Wall in Berlin.
But symbolic gestures alone cannot cement peace. This is where the European Union's 'secret weapon' comes into play: 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.
Admittedly, some aspects can be puzzling. Ministers from landlocked countries passionately discussing fish-quota. Europarlementarians from Scandinavia debating the price of olive oil. The Union has perfected the art of compromise. No drama of victory or defeat, but ensuring all countries emerge victorious from talks.
It worked. Peace is now self-evident. War has become inconceivable. Yet 'inconceivable' does not mean 'impossible'. And that is why we are in Oslo today. Europe must keep its promise of peace. But it can no longer rely on this promise to inspire citizens.
This couldn't be more clear than it is today, when we are hit by the worst economic crisis in two generations, 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…
We are working hard to overcome the difficulties, to restore growth and jobs. We are confident we will succeed.
The European Union is not only about peace among nations. As a political project it incarnates – in Spinoza’s definition of peace – "a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice".