Amid criticism, EU receives Nobel Peace Prize (+video)
More than 20 top EU leaders attended today's awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. But critics say the EU's win, coming amid the financial crisis, is inappropriate.
This yearâ€™s Nobel Peace Prize laureates defended the contested decision to give the prize to the European Union and promised it would emerge stronger from the ongoing social unrest and protests in its member states.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the EU the prize for its work representing â€śfraternity between nationsâ€ť and acting as a â€śpeace congress,â€ť among the criteria for the prize in Alfred Nobelâ€™s will. Critics, however, including members of Norwayâ€™s ruling government, have called the EU an unworthy winner because of member statesâ€™ weapon exports and the ill timing of the prize, given Europe's current fiscal crisis.
â€śParents struggling to make ends meet, workers recently laid off, students who fear that, however hard they try, they wonâ€™t get their first job: When they think about Europe, peace is not the first thing that comes to mind,â€ť said Herman Van Rompuy, European Council president, in his Nobel lecture before more than 20 top EU leaders and hundreds of dignitaries at the Oslo City Hall award ceremony.
â€śThe presence of so many European leaders here today underlines our common conviction: that we will come out of this together. Together and stronger,â€ť he added.Â The top leaders of Sweden, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Czech Republic, and the UK were among the few not to attend.
JosĂ© Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, continued the shared Nobel lecture by highlighting the EUâ€™s efforts outside the 27 member states in helping to bring about a â€śglobal order in the making.â€ť In his speech, he cited in particular the EUâ€™s principles of â€śglobal solidarity and global responsibility,â€ť which had driven its leadership in the fight against climate change and food and energy security, and underpinned its policies on disarmament and against nuclear proliferation.
â€śAs a community of nations that has overcome war and fought totalitarianism, we will always stand by those who are in pursuit of peace and human dignity,â€ť he said. â€śAnd let me say it from here today: The current situation in Syria is a stain on the worldâ€™s conscience and the international community has a moral duty to address it.â€ť
The laureatesâ€™ address follows yesterdayâ€™s protest demonstration in Oslo led by the Norwegian Peace Council, during which about 700 people marched by torchlight in the cold winter nightÂ against the worthiness of the EU as a peace prize recipient. The peaceful protest represented 50 Norwegian and international organizations, including members of Norwayâ€™s coalition government of Center and Socialist Left parties â€“ who are against Norway joining the EU â€“ and Dimitris Kodelas, parliamentary member of the Greek leftist party Syriza.
â€śWhen we heard that the Nobel Prize for Peace would be given to the European Union, we first thought it was joke,â€ť said Mr. Kodelas. â€śEspecially because this comes in days when many of the peoples of south Europe are living with the results of the financial war, and these countries are turning into colonies of debt with deprived citizens and looted national wealth.â€ť
â€śOne-third of the society in Greece is below or at the edge of poverty. Is it possible that the initiators of this situation are given awards?â€ť he asked.
The staunchly pro-EU ThorbjĂ¸rn Jagland, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman and former Labour party prime minister, countered questions over the timing of the prize. â€śIn light of the financial crisis that is affecting so many innocent people, we can see that the political framework in which the union is rooted is more important than ever,â€ť he said in his presentation speech, prior to handing over the peace prize diploma and medal.
â€śDemonstrations are a part of our democracy,â€ť he added. â€śThe task of politics is to transform the protesters and protests into concrete political actions.â€ť
â€śWe are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect," he stated. "We are gathered in the belief that here in Europe we must solve our problems together.â€ť