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Ten years ago
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Nobel Peace Prize for the EU

Yesterday's big news was that this year's Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the EU. Unsurprisingly, everyone thinks this is totally ridiculous. After all, the EU is (i) not a person, (ii) not terribly popular at the moment, and (iii) not a peacekeeping organisation. "What has the EU ever done to promote peace?", the masses cry. "There hasn't even been a war inside the EU since it began!"

Yes. Exactly.

The EU has never sent troops to France and Germany to keep the peace because it doesn't need to. The whole setup is designed to make it impossible for member states to even contemplate going to war with each other. It started in 1951 with the European Coal and Steel Community, the idea being that if France and Germany shared their coal and steel, they would stop fighting each other over coal and steel. Then, with the economic union, we had a situation where different components of a vehicle were made in different countries, meaning that if those countries fought, they'd suddenly find themselves very short of tanks and planes.

The result? No wars inside the ECSC/EC/EU. Ever. Now think about how unlikely that must have sounded in 1945, given the constant tension between France and Germany that had led to the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, World War I in 1914, and World War II in 1939. And given how many times the British have fought the French. The EU has brought about an incredible period of peace not by doing, but simply by being.

We've got so used to this that we don't see it any more. After all, "France and Germany still not at war after 67 years" isn't exciting enough to make the news. But it's pretty impressive. What has been in the news recently is "European single currency goes down the toilet". This is a very good reason for not awarding the EU a Nobel Prize for Economics. Which isn't what happened.

What about the idea of giving the prize to a large organisation rather than a person? The Nobel Peace Laureates we all remember are people like Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Aung San Suu Kyi. But if Médecins Sans Frontières can win it (and I don't think many people could object to that), why not the EU? The UN (or a subdivision thereof) has won the prize eight times. So a win for the EU really shouldn't be that surprising.

Legal nerds (like myself) will be wondering whether there was anything in Alfred Nobel's Will about the eligibility of organisations for his prizes. I'll just let you read the text and come to your own conclusions.

Öfver hela min återstående realiserbara förmögenhet förfogas på följande sätt: kapitalet, af utredningsmännen realiserade till säkra värdepapper, skall utgöra en fond, hvars ränta årligen utdelas som prisbelöning åt dem, som under det förlupne året hafva gjort menskligheten den största nytta. Räntan delas i fem lika delar som tillfalla: en del den som inom fysikens område har gjort den vigtigaste upptäckt eller uppfinning; en del den som har gjort den vigtigaste kemiska upptäck eller förbättring; en del den som har gjort den vigtigaste upptäckt inom fysiologiens eller medicinens domän; en del den som inom litteraturen har producerat det utmärktaste i idealisk rigtning; och en del åt den som har verkat mest eller best för folkens förbrödrande och afskaffande eller minskning af stående armeer samt bildande och spridande af fredskongresser.

...

Det är min uttryckliga vilja att vid prisutdelningarne intet afseende fästes vid någon slags nationalitetstillhörighet sålunda att den värdigaste erhåller priset, antingen han är Skandinav eller ej.


Perhaps a more vexing question is what the EU will actually do with the 10,000,000 kronor prize money. Somehow I doubt they'll send all of the EU's 500m inhabitants a cheque for 2 öre each, and it won't go very far towards helping Greece out of debt. My bet is that they'll build a monument to the Pax Europaea in Brussels, which will end up costing ten times the amount of the prize money. If that happens, that's when I'll join the critics.
Matteus, Kjellove, Ole Petter, Christian likes this

Comments

Camilla,  13.10.12 22:21

I was one of those outraged by the choice. This is not because I do not recognise the value of the EU (or rather, the foundation for the EU, if not the EU in its current incarnation) in creating a bond between France and Germany through the Coal and Steel Community and what followed.

On the contrary, I think that was a major factor in creating stability within Europe, and keeping it from spiralling into another major war.

HOWEVER. The prize was not given to the EU in the 60s, when it might have been appropriate. It was given to the EU in 2012:

som under det förlupne året hafva gjort menskligheten den största nytta

from Nobel's will, suggests that the last year should have rather a lot to do with the choice. During the last year, I would venture, the EU has been chipping away at the foundation for the middle classes in Southern Europe (and anyone who has ever taken a history class will know that the middle classes are the primary stabilising force of any state), driving it further into the abyss with every insistence on cuts and more cuts in the middle of a major depression.

Yes, they have meanwhile been making overtures in the direction of former Yugoslav states, but that does not (in my opinion) come anywhere near making up for that destabilising tendency. They have a lot to make up for (in light of the Euro).


My main objection, however, is that both the symbolic power and the prize money could have done a hell of a lot more good directed at an individual fighting for freedoms in Belarus or other problematic areas within Europe, than they do when given to an entity which in itself is undemocratic (at best).
Matteus,  14.10.12 13:32

The other Nobel Prizes seldom look at the previous year. Physicists might wait for decades because some Swede invented a new lighthouse.

While I agree the prize money could have been better spent by someone else, one could argue that awarding the prize to the EU is an expression of hope that the union will continue to be a factor for peace in Europe. A sort of "Hey guys, we know the EU doesn't look that great at the moment, but look at what it's done so far. Maybe it can do that some more in the future as well."
Are likes this

Are,  14.10.12 15:49

I'm with Matteus and Tim.

You could also say "kudos for giving the Prize to something or someone who actually made a HUGE difference, and not some dubious person in the habit of plating a few trees here and there". Or something to that effect.

The prize has become a little detached from time - as Camilla points out, despite what Nobel himself wrote. That doesn't bother me. I view it as a tool for fostering peace, the details aren't that important.
Tor,  15.10.12 09:19

Actually, I think the physics people have tried to reward people not in the year they made the discovery, but in the year the importance of the discovery became apparent.

Tim,  17.10.12 00:32

Camilla makes a good point which I hadn't spotted. But then, when something takes place over a period of 60 years, how else can you recognise it?

Incidentally, there was an article in the Financial Times at the weekend giving arguments for and against. The "against" argument was basically about correlation not equalling causation: the issue of timing wasn't mentioned.

The Nobel Committee's press release is helpful for understanding why they made the decision they did.
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