The European Union, pronounced Herman Van Rompuy, the nearest the body has to a president, is "the biggest peacemaking institution ever created in human history". Never shy of staking a bold claim, and often derided for it, the Belgian Christian Democrat and committed European federalist seemed taken aback in his overreaction to the Nobel peace prize committee's surprise decision. Certainly, at meetings and functions witnessed close-up over several hours of Thursday in Brussels, neither Van Rompuy, nor his European commission counterpart, José Manuel Barroso, nor, for example, the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, betrayed the slightest sign of being aware in advance of the bombshell from Oslo. An inspired choice of winner? A political decision reminding the EU of its fundamental and now often forgotten raison d'etre at a time when the foundations are being shaken as never before? Or a default option of an institution in the deemed absence of any outstanding individual candidate? Perhaps a bit of all three.
The arguments will rage over whether the modern EU is a fitting peace laureate, as they did over the award to Barack Obama when he had barely accomplished anything as US president.
"The peace prize has always been a political one," said Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Europe thinktank. "It gives the EU a morale boost at a time when it has been shaken to its core … It is a reminder to Eurosceptics to consider the real merits of the union they so despise, and it is an appeal to Europe to finally become a serious strategic player in the world."
The award brought paroxysms of frustration and snorts of derision from Europhobes as well as lofty claims of credit from Europhiles. And there was plenty of more measured pro- or anti- reaction in between. Given the committee's reasoning – looking to the union's roots and record over the decades well before the current sovereign debt crisis that has thrown the viability of the euro into question – a form of history war is breaking out. It was the Americans who brought peace, democracy, and stability to post-1945 (western) Europe, while the Russians brought enslavement to the east of the continent, some are already arguing.
That may be true. But it's also true that, following three wars from 1870, the rapprochement between Germany and France that was engineered in the 1950s as the foundation of the EU has been deepened ever since, to the extent that it is woven into the fabric of the two countries. In an EU of 27 and not the original six members, the Franco-German relationship can often appear less central than it was. But crisis also exposes fundamentals and the current turbulence and depression will require Paris and Berlin, deeply divided over the future of the EU, to reach an accommodation yet again if there is to be a successful recovery. Brussels is fond of claiming the credit for the key game-changing events of the last 25 years in Europe. It played its part, sometimes well but not always successfully. It was not the EU that fomented Poland's Solidarity revolution.
That triumph belongs to the people of Poland. Ditto everywhere else in central and eastern Europe in 1989. It was a full 15 years before Poland and the rest joined the EU. But European integration has undoubtedly encouraged stronger democracies in the east as well as making them more prosperous. In the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, European failures, botched policies, and divisions were widely seen as a huge moral disgrace. Yet the Oslo citation credits the EU with reconciliation successes in the Balkans, eliciting bitter memories among the civilians of Sarajevo bombed and besieged for three years while Europe wrung its hands. And while the former Yugoslav states of Slovenia and soon Croatia get into the EU, there is little appetite to quickly draw the other five states of the western Balkans into membership. It is nonetheless a stabilising factor in, say, Kosovo. But the Franco-German achievements are undeniable and remain relevant, especially in the current crisis, which is seeing the revival of old national stereotypes, scapegoating and resentments. And while Brussels again cannot claim the credit for overthrowing the colonels in Greece or the dictatorships in Spain and Portugal, it contributed hugely to shoring up democracy in the Mediterranean after the regimes were overthrown, which helps explain why, despite the present emergency in all three countries, they are broadly pro-EU.
Despite the long years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Basque insurgency, say, in Spain, or the continued partition of Cyprus, no two EU member states have ever gone to war against one another. It's a peace that may too often be taken for granted.
Source: The GuardianRelated Articles
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