Does the EU deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

The European Union has won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, but is it a worthy winner?

Kristina Kukolja reports for SBS World News Australia Radio.


The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, made the announcement at a news conference in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Mr Jagland says the Prize recognises the European Union’s work in advancing stability and reconciliation for the past six decades.

“The division between East and West has to a large extent been brought to an end. Democracy has been strengthened. Many ethnic-based national conflicts have been settled. The admission of Croatia as a member next year, the opening of membership negotiations with Montenegro, and the granting of candidate status to Serbia, all strengthen the process of reconciliation in the Balkans. In the past decade, the possibility of EU membership for Turkey has also advanced democracy and human rights in that country.”

First awarded in 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize was created by the 19th century Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel.

Today, it represents the culmination of a week of Nobel prize announcements — including in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry and literature.

The EU was one of 231 contenders for this year’s Peace award.

The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso says it’s a justified recognition of the work of the EU on behalf of the 500-million citizens of the continent, and the rest of the world.

“The European Union, then the European Community, has unified countries split by the Cold War and has made it around the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, justice, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Through its transformative power, the European Union was able, starting with six countries, to reunited almost all the European continent.”

Professor Jurgen Brohmer is a European Union expert at Perth’s Murdoch University.

He says this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recognises what he describes as possibly the most successful peace project in world history.

“I’m thinking back to the beginnings in the late 1940s and early 50s with great personalities like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, getting together and trying to put the continent, the little part of what western Europe is on a different footing – one away from confrontation, one away from nationalism and antagonism to joining together, collaborating together, providing institutions and fora in which they can handle their disputes in a better way than what the confrontation of the centuries before and all the wars that were part of it yielded.”

The European Union traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community, formed in the 1950s, and the European Economic Community.

From six original members it grew to 15 members in 2004 when it embraced the first of the former Soviet states.

Jan Egeland, from Human Rights Watch, has told the BBC it’s a controversial decision to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU.

“It will be very controversial, not the least in Norway, which has not joined the European Union and where the European Union is controversial as a membership project. In many ways what Jagland is saying is that it’s an ommission that the European Union and the Coal and Steel community didn’t get it in the 1950s or 60s or 70s so we have to give it today in 2012. I would say there are other and more worthy winners in 2012. And correcting something that yes is wrong, seen in an historic perspective, is perhaps a bit controversial.”

Questions remain about whether the Nobel Peace Prize itself is still a meaningful way recognising the promotion of peace in the world.

There have been accusations over the years about the intrusion of politics into the selection process.

United States President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, only weeks after entering office.

Years later, increased US troop involvement in Afghanistan is among the reasons some have given to question whether he deserved the award.

And there have been other controversial winners.

One of last year’s three recipients — the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is accused by human rights groups of supporting the former Liberian President Charles Taylor, a convicted war criminal.

Doctor Keith Finlayson from the Australian National University is an expert on the Nobel Peace Prize.

He says such criticisms are not surprising.

“Criticisms of Obama are justified… It was a very hopeful period, lots of promise, lots of hope, … Whether he has delivered some things and not some others, for example Guantanamo Bay is still open. The due process of law, the fundamental foundation of the way that America works is still being circumvented. Henry Kissinger, you go back into the 1970s and you just wonder how even then in the middle of the Vietnam War with the record there, how could Henry Kissinger be selected for the Nobel Peace Prize? And there are no doubt other recipients where you just ask yourself how could that have happened and was there something else happening in the decision-making process which skewed people’s decision for some other purpose besides identifying the right people to promote peace?”

Dr Finlayson says another issue is the process used to select the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, which differs from that used in the other Nobel prize categories.

“They’re selected by academies mostly based in Sweden where they’re composed of international experts and a range of Swedish scientists or literary critics and international scientists, so there’s quite a representative balance there and the people who are selected for those prizes are selected on the basis of a majority vote. I think that’s quite a robust system. Now you come to the Nobel Peace Prize and actually the people who make the decision at the end of the day are a small group of Norwegian politicians, just a handful, and they’re just drawn from the Norwegian political elite. I don’t think I would like to pay so much attention to what they think without a wider representation of the rest of the world.”

The Nobel Peace award carries prize money of just over a million dollars.

Some commentators have suggested the EU may have to put it into a bailout fund for one of its member countries being swamped by debt.

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