The Norwegian Nobel Committee has sprung another surprise with the decision to award the Peace Prize to the European Union. This year’s award goes not to any individual — against what is stated in the 1895 testament of the inventor of dynamite and arms industry magnate — but rather, as is becoming customary, to an institution. That founding text spoke of recognizing the person who had “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Alfred Nobel could not have imagined the horrors that would be visited on the planet by the two world wars; and even less, that from the second conflict there would emerge something like the EU which, apart from the military issue, fulfills his prerequisites.
The vision of people such as Jean Monnet — who in the midst of World War II were busy designing what would become a European community based around Franco-German reconciliation — was indeed an admirable one. Together with Monnet, there were others who participated in this heroic exercise and who would also deserve to be recognized with such an award. On Friday the Nobel Committee rectified its mistake of not having realized earlier the importance of European integration for peace and democracy, both in the continental sense and across the world.
The construction of the European Union, from the launch at the Europe Congress in 1948, has succeeded in learning from historic errors and managed to combine the objectives of peace, democracy, prosperity and human rights. Today’s Union is the result of what was built in the 1950s and in the years following the end of the Cold War, with the eastward expansion of membership. The EU has managed to export peace and democracy to neighboring countries, many of which desire to join the union as part of an unfinished process, in which the block imposed on Turkey’s adhesion constitutes an enormous mistake.
The EU is a unique experiment in historical terms which, as well as integrating different nations, also preserves the identities which make up European diversity. It has, furthermore, taken the defense of human rights to hitherto unknown realms. After the nation-state, it is the most original political invention Europe has come up with — for itself, and the wider world.
Advance or perish
It is impossible to ignore the difficulties now faced by a European Union which has seen its popularity decline. The Nobel Prize is a boost to morale and should help to overcome reticence at a national level which is preventing a determined advance toward a Monetary Union effectively accompanied by fiscal, banking, economic and, of course, political ties. It is imperative to understand that failure of the Monetary Union could lead to all the hard-fought gains of the past six decades being undone, giving free rein to the demons of Europe’s past.
To continue to advance means member states exiting the crisis together through economic growth. Ortega y Gasset said that “Europeans do not know how to live unless they are engaged in some great enterprise. When this is lacking, they grow petty and feeble and their souls disintegrate.” The Nobel Prize should serve as an incentive to avert this outcome.