The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for its long-term role in uniting the continent, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said on Friday, an award seen as a morale boost for the bloc as it struggles to resolve its debt crisis.
The committee praised the 27-nation EU for rebuilding after World War Two and for its role in spreading stability to former communist countries after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
The EU has been a key in transforming Europe "from a continent of wars to a continent of peace," Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said in announcing the award in Oslo.
"This is a message to Europe to do everything they can to secure what they've achieved and move forward," Jagland said, saying it was a reminder of what would be lost "if the union is allowed to collapse."
Israel quickly extended its congratulations to the EU for its win. "The exemplary success of the EU in establishing peace in Europe after two world wars is an inspiration to the whole family of nations," read a statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. The European Union crystalizes the way of reason and compromise through which nations can overcome hostility and ancient conflicts, and establish good neighborly relations, mutual trust and cooperation for the common good."
Palmor added that Israel "expects the EU to continue its efforts for promoting peace in the Middle East, through a supportive approach and understanding of the special sensitivities of the area."
The president of the European Parliament welcomed the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union on Friday, saying it recognized post-war reconciliation in Europe and would serve as an inspiration.
"(We are) deeply touched and honored that the EU has won the Nobel Peace Prize," Martin Schulz said in a statement distributed on Twitter.
"Reconciliation is what the EU is about. It can serve as an inspiration. The EU is a unique project that replaced war with peace, hate with solidarity."
The prize, worth $1.2 million, will be presented in Oslo on Dec 10. The decision by the five-member panel, led by Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjoern Jagland, was unanimous.
Founded with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 with a community of six nations seeking greater economic integration, the bloc has expanded to 27 including east European states added since the Cold War.
EU win comes as a surprise
The EU won from a field of 231 candidates including Russian dissidents and religious leaders working for Muslim-Christian reconciliation.
But the EU is mired in crisis with strains on the euro, the common currency shared by 17 nations.
The prize was a surprise, especially given the EU's current woes. And many Norwegians are bitterly opposed to the EU, seeing it as a threat to the sovereignty of nation states. "I find this absurd," the leader of Norway's anti-EU membership organization Heming Olaussen told Norwegian radio NRK.
"In Latin America and other parts of the world they will view this quite differently than they will from Brussels. The union is a trade bloc that contributes to keeping many countries in poverty."
World Jewish Congress praises prize decision
World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder on Friday praised the Nobel Committee's decision.
"European integration has been the main reason why the European continent has become a haven of peace, freedom and prosperity nobody would have dreamed of 60 years ago," Lauder said.
"Jews and members of other minority communities have been among the main beneficiaries of closer European integration, and although anti-Semitism and racism continue to worry us, the European Union is - and will be in the future - our main ally in overcoming these scourges,” the WJC president added.
Lauder called the EU to take a more proactive stance on the "Iranian threat, the rise of Islamism and the worrying developments in the Middle East."