I’ve already been asked several times today what I think of the European Union as the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. What came first to my Minnesota mind was that this announcement won’t be terribly controversial. After all, sixty years ago Europe was in shambles, with blood still drying in the fields. Now it’s almost impossible to imagine that hatred was rampant, and it’s almost unthinkable that Europe could be at war with itself. Any institution responsible, even in part, for this dramatic turning of the tide deserves recognition.
Then I spoke with some folks at the KFAI radio station and in the hall outside my office. Several were from Europe, one from Africa, and one from Latin America. The Europeans pointed out that some people in the smaller countries of the EU, who are now experiencing a painful economic pinch, feel bullied by the EU. Even if these people may not dispute the worthiness of the award to the EU, they may be reluctant to give credit to the EU for its peace and democracy work. Such are the seeds of controversy that often surround the Peace Prize. Stay tuned to who voices disagreement and why.
Are there consequences of this 2012 Prize or lessons to learn from it? Europe is an example of why we should hesitate before dismissing any endemically conflict-ridden region as “hopeless.” A hundred years ago our European great-grandmothers might well have characterized Europe as hopeless. In fact, it’s precisely the reason why many of them left. All the pessimism directed towards Europe in 1912 has parallels in other parts of the world today. Somalia? The Middle East? Burma? The EU’s prize reminds us that pessimism is premature, and no region or people should be written off simply because conflict has existed for centuries.
Another lesson to consider is that when six countries initially formed the EU in order to foster long-term peace, their initial actions were to tackle trade and business issues. In the EU, shared business interests drive compromise and collaboration. As is true around the globe, economic success underpins peace and stability.
Just as importantly, European Union’s approach is not built on individual people. Instead, it is built on trans-national, multi-layered institutions. Peace is always fragile, but the EU made peace more durable by weaving together a complex tapestry. One or more threads may fray or break, but the fabric remains intact.
Finally, this award also celebrates the marriage of business principles to democratic principles. The EU made a choice. It decided it would not allow business interests to trump democracy. Thus, entry into the EU requires firm democratic policies and action on the part of the entering nation.
Even as we continue to learn more in the coming days, this most recent Nobel Peace Prize award gives us much to celebrate and much to study.
Maureen K. Reed
Nobel Peace Prize Forum