The EU was officially awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for turning Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”
With numerous EU heads of state and governments looking on, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland handed the prize to three EU leaders: EU President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
Recalling the 80 million European victims of war and extremism in the past century, Jagland said: “Peace must not be taken for granted. We have to struggle for it everyday.”
His Nobel Committee has come under criticism for awarding the prestigious award to the EU at a time when it is riven by divisions.
“We are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect,” Jagland said.
Based on the will of old enemies France and Germany to reconcile after three bloody wars, the EU has grown from six states to 28 in July next year, when Croatia is to join the bloc.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel rose to take a round of applause from the dignitaries assembled in Oslo City Hall as the Nobel medal, diploma and almost 1 million euros (US$1.3 million) prize were handed to the EU officials.
EU leaders pledged at the award ceremony “to stand by” the euro, saying the single currency was one of the strongest symbols of unity in the bloc’s 60-year history.
“Today one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone’s hands,” Barroso said. “It is the euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it.”
The EU also said that the conflict in Syria was “a stain” on the world’s conscience.
“Let me say it from here today: The current situation in Syria is a stain on the world’s conscience and the international community has a moral duty to address it,” Barroso said.
Meanwhile, half a dozen EU leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, snubbed the ceremony, taking place just four days before a key EU summit to determine the steps in attempts to forge a tighter union.
The EU is bristling with talk of a possible walk-out by Britain and the head of Britain’s increasingly popular euroskeptic UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, on Sunday said: “Far from bringing peace, the EU is engendering violence, poverty and despair across Europe.”
Rich northern Europe and the struggling south are increasingly divided as austerity reforms trigger fiery protests and encourage extremist movements.
Tensions also remain between the 17 nations that share the euro and those outside, while even relations between France and Germany are rocky.
Differences between the two powers are notably holding up a deal to set up a banking union seen as a key to the future of the eurozone.
“Europe is going through a difficult period,” Van Rompuy said. “We will come out of this time of uncertainty and recession stronger than we were before.”