EU Nobel Prize incites critics

The prize poses further decline in its prestige and effectiveness in promoting the value of peace.

Robert J. Lefkowitz R300 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
Robert J. Lefkowitz R300
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout .)
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize each year is a curious affair. Sometimes the announcement incites bemusement, other times anger and dissent, and on rare occasions something like general consensus.
This year’s recipient, the European Union, has proven to be a controversial one. At a ceremony this week in Oslo, the capital of Norway, representatives of the Brussels bureaucracy, together with designated guests from member states, accepted the award for the EU’s services in bringing peace to the word.  The Nobel committee recognized the efforts of the EU over five decades to promote democracy and human rights among nations that had previously fought bitter wars against each other.
Interestingly, although apparently worthy of international recognition and plaudits, the EU is not particularly popular with actual Norwegians voters. Twice Norway has voted to stay out of the EU, preferring instead an arms-length relationship that ensures Norwegians enjoys all the economic benefits, without sacrificing its own sovereignty when it comes to other areas, such as, for example, international peacekeeping efforts.
There were no doubt several “Eurocrats” among attending the award ceremony who were busy contemplating how exactly the prestige of winning a Nobel could be most effectively turned into more money, more power and more patronage for Brussels.One recommendation already making the rounds, courtesy of the EU’s foreign affairs department, is that the EU should form yet another “institute”.  Pithily titled the European Institute of Peace, this new organization would spread the word about the benefits of conflict resolution.  The Nobel Peace Prize comes with a $1 million cash prize, which could be used to jump-start new projects such as this.  Many EU champions feel that the Nobel Prize brings with it an obligation to expand European peacemaking efforts even further.  Current estimates for an Institute of Peace envision a budget of over $3 million a year and a staff of a dozen or more.
Such an institute, however, would follow in the well trod footsteps of both the United States and United Nations.  Legitimate questions are being asked about whether yet another institute is actually necessary, especially in light of the budget difficulty facing European countries, as well as the EU itself.  The US Institute of Peace has been up and running for almost 30 years and has a budget of over $40 million.  Critics have pointed out the EU’s copycat institute may be duplicative and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, protests in Oslo the day before the award was handed out demonstrated that anti-EU sentiment is still intense, at least in some quarters.  Even former Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa have come out against the EU as a worthy recipient.   Two past laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976) and Adolofo Perez Esquival (1980), attended the protests in person to voice their concerns.
The bloody war in Bosnia during the 1990s, which raged as the EU stood idly by, is just one example of Brussels’ inadequacy on the international stage.  The economic collapses that has engulfed the continent in recent years is threatening the continued viability the Euro, the single currency at the heart of EU consolidation, revealing significant gaps in the EU’s effectiveness.
Champions of European integration, however, stress that the EU will ultimately emerge even stronger from the economic crisis.  This is perhaps what most concerns its critics.  No matter what the challenges and shortcomings facing the EU, the answer that comes back from Brussels always appears to be “more integration, more harmonization.”The backlash against the EU remains strongest in Britain.  Prime Minister David Cameron is working hard to stake out a position for his government addressing the anti-European sentiment building up inside and outside his party, while at the same time reassuring others that the future of Britain is within Europe.  Cameron is pushing for significant reforms in how decisions are made and how money is spent within the Brussels bureaucracy, while angry voices are condemning the European experiment an anti-democratic failure that undermines Britain’s own political institutions and its long history of liberty and civil rights.
An arms-length relationship with the EU, such as Norway enjoys, is an appealing option to many of these disgruntled Britons.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a number of patriotic Americans might point out that the role of the NATO alliance, and the extended commitment of US troops to Europe for many years after the end of World War II, had much more to do with bringing peace and stability to a war-torn continent than a common agricultural policy or uniform regulations on arcane topics like the acceptable curvature of a banana.
The Nobel Peace Prize has always been more a means to make political statements than a rigorous assessment of the actual contributions made towards limiting the casualties of war and violence.  We need only look back to the most recent American winner of this award.  Barack Obama’s receipt of the award has done little to prevent him from overseeing the expansion of his controversial drone bombing campaigns without any sustained public backlash.
Perhaps the EU will produce a better legacy from its Nobel win. Otherwise, the prize itself risks a further decline in both its prestige and its effectiveness in promoting the value of peace to the world.
Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between the United Kingdom and Southern California. He has appeared on CNN, CNBC, BBC and Sky News, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Economist.