Has the Nobel Prize Committee Ignored the European Elephant in the Room?

Dave Scotford 

Image © Horia Varlan

The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after they were credited with six decades of work in advancing peace and stability across the region. While announcing the decision, the Norwegian prize jury praised the union’s “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights.”

Senior leaders within the EU are overjoyed with the decision and avid supporters of the union are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief. Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, said the award recognized the EU’s work as “the biggest peacemaker in history,” and Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso said that it was “a tremendous honour.”

Though there’s a problem. To speak frankly, to suggest the last sixty years across Europe have been decades of peace and harmony is simply wrong. Did the awarding committee forget about the violent breaking up of the former Yugoslavia or about the decades of violence which threatened to bring Northern Ireland to its knees? How about the stand off between Greece and Turkey on the island of Cyprus or the vast social unrest which marches through European capitals in the modern day?

Even if the committee acknowledged these conflicts, surely they understood that it was not the EU who played any major role in bringing, or attempting to bring, them back under control. Since the creation of NATO in 1945, it is they who have been tasked with keeping the peace when trouble has flared. We should also remember NATO was built up under the control of American generals in response to the Cold War, and not the EU.

The advancement of human rights is based solely on the European Convention of Human Rights which was first introduced in 1950, 43 years before the EU was founded. Strictly speaking, the EU has only been in existence since 1993 and its predecessor, the European Economic Community was set up twelve years after the end of World War II as a trading organisation. 

The EU is not by any means a bad thing for the United Kingdom. As a country we’re far better off economically because of it, and there’s no doubt that the EU has had a positive influence on policy areas such as agriculture and economic migration.

We’ll never really know how the awarding committee came to the decision to recognise the EU, but many see the award itself as tainted. Days into his presidency, Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, even though he went on to command the world’s largest army fighting two wars, and publicly advocates the use of drone strikes.

Public trust in the EU, according to a study carried out by Eurobarometer for the European Commission, is at an all time low. Though it has raised eyebrows, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an organisation isn’t unique, as 1999 saw Medecins Sans Frontieres recognised.

UKIP leader, Nigel Farage said that the award “goes to show that the Norwegians really do have a sense of humour,” and the UK Foreign Office released a lukewarm statement which urged the EU to “preserve and strengthen” its achievements. On Sunday (14th October), the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove reportedly told friends that he’s ready to threaten to leave the EU.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, called for the EU to be given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 and since 2009, he has been chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize awarding committee. In 2005, while Prime Minister of Norway, he wrote a book entitled ‘My European Dream’ and argued that his country should join the EU.

In short, the pro-EU chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize awarding committee, who happens to be the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, has seen his four year old call for the EU to be given the Nobel Peace Prize realised. There are many who see these coincidences as a little fishy.

During an interview with the BBC, Jose Manuel Barroso said he believed “it is justified for the EU to see its work for peace recognised, not only in the unification of the continent, but also outside of Europe.” It seems a little odd for the Commission President to talk about unity when relations between Greece and Germany are in the toilet, Britain vetoed a treaty to the praise of its media and capital cities across the region have burned with protest.

Thorbjorn Jagland pointed to the economic problems which dogged EU member states but said the awarding committee wanted to focus on the EU’s work in advancing “peace and reconciliation…” It seems as though Thorbjorn Jagland is very much aware of the elephant in the room but just doesn’t want to talk about it.

Sixty years of peace after two World Wars is something to celebrate, as is the advancement of human rights; but it is not right for the EU to claim the credit. As with almost everything connected to the EU, things are a little more complicated than they first seem.

 

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