x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Why the EU deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Its currency crisis and many other problems, faults and failures notwithstanding, the Nobel peace prize winner remains the best example of nation-state integration.

Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Sarah Lazarovic for The National

The recent news that the crisis-hit European Union had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was met with much derision in some quarters.

France's Libération said the Nobel Committee showed "a hell of a nerve" awarding the prize to "a very sick patient", while Britain's Daily Telegraph said that "to take this decision seriously would be to give the Nobel Committee a status that, many would argue, it no longer deserves. Indeed, the greatest service it has done is not to diplomacy, but to comedy."

Writing in the same paper, London Mayor Boris Johnson slammed the decision, dismissing the 27-member bloc as nothing more than "a clutch of ugly plate-glass office blocks in Brussels", strangely insisting that the Peace Prize should go to Margaret Thatcher, the Eurosceptical former British prime minister who so eagerly took her country to war in the South Atlantic in 1982. "I suggest we turn down this meaningless award for an institution that has got things so badly wrong, and insist that it be handed instead to a woman who got it overwhelmingly right," he ranted.

Other reasons cited by critics as to why the EU did not deserve the Peace Prize included the bloc's failure to stop atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s, social unrest in its cash-strapped southern member states, and its lack of success in addressing the various inequalities faced by the continent's Roma people.

This is not the Nobel Committee's first controversial Peace Prize decision. Others include US President Barack Obama in 2009, who has since been widely condemned for repeatedly sanctioning drone attacks that have killed civilians in South Asia and the Middle East; Yasser Arafat in 1994, prompting one committee member to resign in protest, declaring that the Palestinian leader was a "terrorist"; and US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who won it in 1973 despite his involvement in the illegal bombing of Cambodia.

But is the EU really such an unworthy choice? Not according to the criteria set out by Alfred Nobel in his will. He said the prize should go to whoever "shall have done the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". If you look at its diplomatic achievements since its formation as the six-member European Economic Community at the height of the Cold War, the EU ticks all of those boxes and more.

Its currency crisis and many other problems, faults and failures notwithstanding, the EU remains the best example of nation-state integration the world has ever seen, making it a geopolitical benchmark for the rest of the international community to aspire to. The committee's decision to award it the prize is arguably a well-deserved morale boost for the bloc as it struggles to survive its first existential crisis.

But perhaps next year the committee could choose a peace laureate that people from all walks of life can agree on, someone following in the footsteps of Aung San Suu Kyi, the courageous Myanmar pro-democracy leader who was awarded the prize in 1991 after the military junta in her country refused to recognise her electoral victory and placed her under house arrest for years.

Now in the forefront of her country's new democratic reform programme, the inspirational opposition figure has amply demonstrated that the award can provide highly effective leverage for those pursuing political and humanitarian goals.

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old advocate for female education rights who the Pakistani Taliban shot in the head in an assassination attempt as she was returning home on a school bus in the Swat Valley on Oct 9, would be a less divisive candidate for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize than the EU. As with Suu Kyi, most would consider her profoundly worthy of the honour.