However, online the Nobel Committee’s decision to hand the prize to a union of states beleaguered by a severe financial crisis, sparked strong reactions from some on Twitter.
“Let’s forget about #Malala & peers, brave community workers, prisoners of conscience, & give the Nobel Peace Prize to, drumroll, the EU,” one person from Egypt named @RawahBadrawi wrote.
“How much money does the Nobel Peace Prize reward? Maybe they’re trying to save the European Union’s economy and take the win next year,” joked a US netizen, @ToBeReadOutLoud. Explaining this year’s prize decision, Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland pointed to the three wars fought between Germany and France in the past, which he said was “unthinkable” today.
Many on Twitter wondered why the prize was given to a union of states currently wracked by a severe financial crisis, which has led to high unemployment and violent protests in some countries. “Anti-austerity protests in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy & France, Nationalism, Fascism, unemployment and poverty. Yeah EU deserves it!” @AnonOpGreece said on Twitter.
Some netizens however leapt to defend the Nobel committee, including one netizen from the Maldives, which has been beset by political turmoil and violent demonstrations over the past year.
“Congrats #EU for the well-deserved #Nobel 4 championing democracy. Hope this emboldens your efforts to restore democracy in the Maldives,” @shafeeu said. “Today’s #Nobel Peace Prize has the potential to move minds. Europeans may remember that it’s not only the economy, stupid! (No offense Bill),” another named @jonashelseth said, alluding to a well-known phrase from former US president Bill Clinton’s campaign.
On a more practical level, many on Twitter wondered who would be picking up the prize money and where the eight million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million) would go.
“Does the prize money go to the EU? Perhaps they can use it toward the Spanish bailout,” @jbarro said.
“Do I get a share of the Nobel Prize money and do I get it twice since I am bi-european now?” @ntlk wondered.
“The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe,” Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said in Oslo. Shortly after the prize announcement, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso described the award as “a tremendous honour”.
Whether or not that begrudging assistance will keep the European project afloat remains to be seen, but the deep crisis has broadened the gulf already felt between citizens in the different member states and a Brussels long seen as too distant and bureaucratic.
“The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest,” Jagland acknowledged on Friday, stressing that the Nobel jury had wanted “to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces harsh criticism from debt-laden southern Europe for fronting the push for punishing austerity measures, on Friday hailed the EU’s win and insisted efforts to save the euro were also aimed at ensuring peace on the continent.
“The euro is more than a currency because at the end of the day it is about the original idea of a union of peace and of values,” she told reporters.
Britain’s Foreign Office meanwhile urged the EU to make further progress.
But British eurosceptics reacted with dismay, with European Parliament member Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, saying the 27-nation bloc was creating “violence and division” in eurozone nations like Spain and Greece.
The French presidency said in a statement the honour confers on Europe “an even greater responsibility to preserve its unity and its capacity to promote growth and jobs and foster solidarity among members.”
Over the years, the pioneering project has swelled to encompass 27 countries which not long ago sat on either side of the “iron curtain”. They came to the table with vastly different economic, social and cultural situations, but following intense integration efforts, a full 17 of them now share a common currency.
This year’s prize also comes as a bombshell in host country Norway, which itself has rejected joining the union twice, in 1972 and 1994, and where three quarters of the inhabitants today say they are opposed to membership, according to recent polls.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg congratulated the EU for its win, but said his country still had no plans of joining the bloc. “This peace prize does not change the situation when it comes to Norway’s relationship to the EU,” he said, adding that “membership is not on the agenda.”
Despite the bloc’s deepening difficulties, its tumultuous history shows that, until now at least, the EU has always managed to survive crises, often strengthening its integration in the process.
The nod to the EU this year can be seen as an effort by the Nobel Committee to rectify a historic oversight: most experts agree that after Gandhi, who died without receiving the honour, the European project represented the most noticeable hole in the Nobel family tree.
It remains unclear who will collect the Nobel for the EU.
The award, consisting of a gold medal, a Nobel diploma and 8.0 million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million), will be handed over at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.
Last year’s prize was split between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, compatriot “peace warrior” Leymah Gbowee and Yemen’s Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman.