… I did not go backpacking around Europe, I bombed the shit out it!
For some European citizens, this statement is, to a certain extent, quite true. But I am glad this is the kind of sentences my grandfathers could have told to me (although they would have been clever enough not to laugh while saying it – “war is sweet to those who have not tasted it“), and not the current state of Europe. Thus, unlike several of my (pessimistic) fellow citizens, I think it is good that the European Union is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
I heard on the radio French journalist, Piotr Smolar (writing for the newspaper Le Monde), explaining why he thought the European Union did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
He transmitted some commentators’ idea, according to which it is uncommon for an International Organization to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, but let us not focus too much on this argument as the facts clearly prove the contrary (ICRC and other humanitarian NGOs, UN Agencies, the UN itself…). Let us also forget the irony he used to criticize those who justified the Nobel was not awarded this year to Human Rights defenders (they achieve great work, but the civil society is not the only one who promotes peace).
Piotr Smolar developed two main arguments:
- the European Union did not prevent war and genocide on its own continent as it witnessed the Republic of Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse;
- if the idea behind the prize was to acknowledge the re-unification of former enemies or the union of a continent, why was it not awarded in 2004, when 10 countries joined the EU?
Choosing 2004 as the *perfect* year on which the prize could have been awarded is interesting but not really relevant. The story of the EU is a story about continuous (yet not always easy) movement towards more integration. You can think about the EU as a gathering of member states but it does not really make sense if these countries do not share an ambitious goal.
The Council of Europe is the largest European organization (47 member states) but its competences mainly focus on rule of law. The EU relies on less member states (27) but has got a broader range of competences and aims to achieve a much higher level of integration. Which is also interesting as it strengthens the links between nations.
The argument according to which the EU should not be prized as some European nations tore themselves apart in the 90′s (and regular incidents in Kosovo show that tensions take time to fade) makes some sense, but has got several limits.
First, from a technical point of view. I do not think it is very fair to blame the EU for not having taken (further) actions during the Balkan crises. Indeed, in the 90′s the European Union was less integrated than it is now, and its foreign policy (although existing according to the treaties) was even less developed than nowadays.
Second, because the Nobel does not necessarily rewards a past behavior. It is also a reward of the faith we put in somebody or in an institution, in the hope it will encourage the recipient of the prize to continue its efforts. In this regard, the case of the 2009 prize is particularly self-explanatory. The Committee did not rewarded a US president everybody knew he would keep on conducting a legitimate (to some extent…) but ethically & legally-doubtful “global war on terror”. It rewarded the faith a nation put in its first African American president, and the hope this election aroused on the global stage.
The European Union has built peace between France and Germany, and France and Germany (with others, of course) have built the European Union. Peacebuilding by and within the European Union is a continuous process. And the Nobel peace prize aims at strengthening this process, forcing the European Union to look forward.
Third, because if we could reproach the EU for its lack of response during the Balkan crises, the Prize also acknowledges what the EU achieved and aims to achieve. Of course, the EU is not a perfect instrument in so far as it will not provide spontaneous peace on the European continent and in the world. However, this organization has brought peace between countries who had been rivals or enemies for centuries. And looking back at all the progress we have made, European citizens should be proud, they who live in a continent diversity of which fueled rivalry from the creation of Nation States until the World wars.
The European Union is not yet an actual global power. However, if its member states managed to agree more often on common interests, it could develop an actual foreign policy and the tools to sustain it (diplomacy, armed forces – who, contrary to basic arguments, can help in building peace – influence…). However, we should not deny the efforts the EU makes to promote peace. To date, the EU has engaged in 28 missions in Europe, Africa and Asia, using both military and civilian capabilities.
At a time when European leaders focus on their own agenda and short-term responses to the triple crisis, the Nobel Peace Prize is a good reminder that common projects, although difficult to build and strengthen, can offer sustainable peace.