Nobel Peace Prize: Surprise in Brussels at award for EU

Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso (file picture) EU leaders said the award recognised its peacemaking role

The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was apparently a unanimous one by the five-member Nobel panel - but a major surprise.

Not just to the pundits, who had variously speculated that perhaps the bloggers of the Arab Spring, or Russian human rights groups might win.

It also came as a shock to the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who told journalists that when he woke up this morning he had not expected it to be such a good day.

"The message is that the European Union is something very precious," Mr Barroso said.

The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said he was proud, that the prize recognised the bloc's role as the "biggest peacemaker in history".

It clearly was not awarded for the European Union's action in dealing with the current eurozone crisis.

Failed diplomacy

Instead, the Nobel committee said the EU had won the peace prize for its role in uniting the continent over the last six decades.

Focusing on a long-term view of the EU's activities, the committee spoke of reconciliation following the two World Wars.

It mentioned the integration of the former communist eastern bloc countries.

And the EU's role in delivering stability in the Balkans. It did not, though, mention the failed diplomacy in Brussels and elsewhere that did little to prevent those wars breaking out in the first place.

For those, in particular, who see the European Commission as an undemocratic, bureaucratic, even corrupt institution, this will do more than raise eyebrows.

Remember, also, that it was awarded in Norway, a country that has steadfastly refused to join the Union, preferring to maintain its own sovereignty.

There was, in the statement from Oslo, recognition that the current economic crisis facing the bloc is presenting particular problems.

Indeed, just a few days ago in Greece, protesters greeted the German leader - on an official visit - with Nazi salutes.

'Baffling'

This was something the Eurosceptic leader of UKIP Nigel Farrage picked up on when asked to comment.

"A general feeling of mutual distrust, hatred and dislike has grown up between Germany and Greece - so I find it baffling that the EU has been awarded this prize," he said.

Europhiles would not expect their critics to say anything less, and today they have a spring in their step in the corridors of Brussels. There are smiles in the normally staid and dull European Commission headquarters. After Jose Manuel Barroso's statement there was a short round of applause.

At the Open Society Institute in Brussels, though, director Heather Grabbe called it a "wake-up call to European leaders to look up from the endless euro negotiations and remember what the project is ultimately all about - peace as well as prosperity".

"This prize comes at a critical moment when the broader perspective is needed," she added.

"European integration has bound our destinies in Europe to an extent that countries have to bail one another out of trouble."

The eurozone crisis has made the EU look more divided and fragile than it has for decades.

The European Union's achievements are clear - and the Nobel committee has highlighted them.

However, it picked a rather strange time to do so.

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