EU win seen as spur to overcome debt crisis


THE NOBEL peace prize has been won by the EU, an award seen as a spur to European leaders to intensify their efforts to overcome the debt crisis.

Although the Norwegian Nobel committee said the prize was in recognition of the EU’s contribution to peace after centuries of war in Europe, committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland cast a warning note as he made his announcement yesterday in Oslo.

“This is in a way a message to Europe that we should do everything we can to secure what has been achieved and move forward,” said Mr Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway.

“We have to keep in mind what has been achieved on this continent and not let the continent go into disintegration again. We know what it means: the emergence of extremism and nationalism once again.”

With Europe in the third year of crisis in the euro zone, the prize was greeted in Brussels as a dose of much-needed good news.

It comes amid protests in Greece, Spain and other member states against the austerity policies promoted by EU institutions.

Some top European figures acknowledged that the prize would do little on its own to improve the mood among the people they serve.

“Europeans won’t be consoled by the Nobel Peace Prize in these difficult times,” said Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, leader of the euro zone finance ministers.

“What they expect, at every moment in European affairs, is that we make the right decisions.”

The Nobel committee acknowledge social unrest in Europe due to the crisis but said it wished to focus on “the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights”.

This was the EU’s most important result, it said. “The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said the award, to be presented in December, was a tremendous honour.

“This prize is the strongest possible recognition of the deep political motives behind our union: the unique effort by ever-more European states to overcome war and divisions and to jointly shape a continent of peace and prosperity,” they said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel praised what she called a “wonderful decision” and French president François Hollande said it was an immense honour.

The award was also praised by former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and former commission president Jacques Delors, champions of the drive for deeper integration in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I am very pleased at this decision. The Nobel peace prize 2012 for the EU is above all a confirmation for the European peace project,” said Mr Kohl.

Mr Delors said the current generation of EU leaders would take the prize as an encouragement. “Europe carries on despite the crises. It’s not a long calm river, but it is consolidating,” he said.

British Eurosceptics greeted the news with derision. “The Nobel committee is a little late for an April fool’s joke. Twenty years ago this prize would have been sycophantic but maybe more justified. Today it is downright out of touch,” said Tory MEP Martin Callanan. “Presumably this prize is for the peace and harmony on the streets of Athens and Madrid.”