On Oct. 12, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize of 2012 was to be awarded to the European Union. The committee’s press release that day stated that the EU “and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
This declaration is only true with the very narrow viewpoint that the European Union has been successful in using economic measures to prevent war among member countries. It overlooks, for example, the several conflicts that have emerged on the European continent over the past six decades, notably the wars of the former Yugoslavia, which were ongoing for the first several years of the EU’s existence.
Even more recently, the EU has been associated with anything but peace. This announcement comes at a time of significant economic and social unrest, particularly in riot-ridden Greece and domestically fractured Spain. At a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s very presence has been a catalyst for violence in Athenian streets, a Nobel Peace Prize is wholly inappropriate.
Moreover, to celebrate formal continental peace in Europe while so many European countries are waging war elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East, is to insult and devalue those conflicts as irrelevant blights on the European record. The Nobel Peace Prize, according to the committee’s website, is awarded to a person or entity that has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” The EU’s diplomatic work can excuse the first and third of those, but this Nobel Peace Prize conveniently ignores Europeans’ persistent use of standing armies — a practice the EU has done nothing to discourage.
The EU does have several victories in the name of peace, and those are to be celebrated. Democracy is required for membership in the EU, which has influenced many countries’ decisions to embrace democracy due to promises of economic benefits. However, to credit the EU entirely with the democratization of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Turkey, among other nations, would be an oversimplification of the issues. The current, severe recession in several European nations shows that the EU did not, in fact, deliver on those economic promises. The Nobel committee’s decision has thus led to outcries in Greece and Spain in particular, where peace cannot be separated from prosperity.
Though this is not the first time an organization has been awarded the prize rather than an individual, it is one of the Nobel committee’s more controversial choices. Since peace is generally a historical, retrospective description rather than a contemporary, easily judged reality, the prize is often politically charged and almost never universally agreed upon. Several people involved in supporting or waging war, such as Nicholas Murray Butler (1931), Henry Kissinger (1973) and Barack Obama (2009), have been awarded the prize. Advocates do generously note that the Nobel Peace Prize is a prize for peace, not pacifism, but the committee’s recent decisions and their timing are particularly difficult to see as completely non-political.
The Nobel Peace Prize is a powerful tool of great potential to promote and celebrate those who join in the effort for human rights. The European Union’s role and record in this effort simply do not line up with the prize’s ideals, especially not in 2012.
Catherine Addington is a foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.
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