Sunk low by euro woes, the European Union needed the Nobel Peace Prize to remind it why it should be grateful for its past success. Gratitude helps in affairs of state as much as in personal ties.
It may seem like an odd time to give the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. What’s to admire right now?
Much of the Continent is in recession. The eurozone could split up. Germany has doubts about its pivotal role. Britain, always the odd man out, is feeling even more out. Spain and Greece are bracing for more riots over imposed austerity.
Yet precisely because of such woes, the Norwegian Nobel Committee was smart to remind Europeans of the power of gratitude in recognizing past successes as a way to help heal the current rifts and stresses. This year’s prize is both a pat on the back and a prod to count one’s blessings.
Those blessings are often easy to forget. The EU has prevented war like those of the 19th and 20th centuries among its 27 sovereignty-surrendering members. By integrating step by step, it has also expanded democracy, human rights, and prosperity – and the ability to influence others to imitate or join that progress. Europe also has the largest economy, won the most medals at the last Olympics, and has the most-desired tourist destinations.
Those achievements should not be neglected while the EU convulses over a big bump in the road – a faltering common currency and swooning debts. It’s quite a feat to join up so many people of so many cultures in only six decades. Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East have hardly begun.
“The main message is that we need to keep in mind what we have achieved on this continent, and not let the Continent go into disintegration again,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, head of the Nobel Committee, in announcing the prize.