The EU’s greatest achievement
The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize ‘for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.’ In its statement, the Nobel Committee mentioned the EU’s success in ensuring reconciliation between France and Germany, the inclusion of Spain, Portugal and Greece after their dictatorships collapsed, reconciliation in the Balkans and the positive influence on Turkey, where the prospect of EU membership ‘advanced democracy and human rights in that country.’
Given the current context, this Nobel Peace Prize comes as a convenient reminder: there are worse things than an economic crisis, i.e. war. Despite the current hardship of millions of Europeans, we should not forget what brought us together, and what we have achieved. We have forgotten how exceptional our times are compared to the last 2,000 years of European history, and that is doubtlessly the EU’s greatest achievement. War between France and Germany has indeed become ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’, to quote Schuman. Some commentators thought it was strange to reward the EU today, after several decades of peace. This shows how normal the current state of peace has become, which in itself is miraculous.
The EU is so much more than bonds and bailouts
The economic and financial turmoil in the past three years has focused public attention on the costs of the EU. This peace prize comes as a refreshing compliment after the storm of criticism that reached the EU since the beginning of the crisis – and even before that. It will hopefully make Europeans more aware of what the EU really is: the institutional incarnation of the European project. Indeed, this structure has shortcomings, but they should not harm the project it carries. Financial markets live in the very short term: a few words from Mario Draghi can make them change their minds in a matter of seconds. We have been living in this fast-paced short-term environment for almost three years now. This Nobel Prize reminds us that politics and society live in the very long-term, longer than human lives. This is what we should focus on: enhanced cooperation in order to build ‘an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’, as stated in the Treaty of Rome.
The Nobel committee rewarded the EU’s contribution for peace at home, but also abroad. There are two interlinked messages here: the EU achieved a surrealistic task – ending wars in Europe –, hence all other wars can come to an end. By its mere existence, the EU is a role model for the world: can you imagine Israelis and Palestinians celebrating peace and friendship in sixty years time? Currently, hardly anyone would bet on that. This is why a failure of the EU would be so dramatic: it would send exactly the opposite message to the world: hatred amongst nations never dies; it merely sleeps.
Celebrate peace, an everyday struggle
As it appears, we should not take the EU for granted. The ideas that led Europe to the most disastrous deflagration in human history are still around. Hence, Angela Merkel is right to say: ‘We must never forget that in order to keep this peace, democracy and freedom, we have to work hard over and over again.’ Some would say that it is normal for extremist political parties to gain more support in crisis times, as people need a scapegoat to blame for their problems: immigrants, the EU, globalisation and other simplifications come very handy. Indeed, the crisis is a great opportunity for anti-European parties to present the EU as a burden on otherwise thriving Nation-States. The values conveyed by these movements do seem archaic to most of us, but they are still around. Their results at local, regional or national elections show that they are gaining ground in the poorer, most remote parts of Europe. We should not consider the people who decide to follow these movements as irrecoverable ultra-nationalists but as people who feel they have lost more than they have gained from European integration. It is our duty to constantly prove them wrong. This is why peace and collaboration between Europeans is a never-ending task.