Nobel Peace Prize - a symbol of EU's aspiration (11/12/2012)

It nurtures hope that Europe will rise above its challenges, towards its objective of peace

The EU was - and remains to this day - a peace project conceived to avoid history repeating itself following two devastating World Wars, both of which originated in Europe.


Collective effort: Today, the collective memory of Europe's terrible conflicts in the 20th century is fading. However, the memories of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the traces left by brutal dictatorships in some European nations and the shadows of the Cold war are still very much with their peoples

THE world watched the heads of the European Union's three political institutions; Presidents Herman van Rompuy, José Manuel Barroso and Martin Schulz received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 on behalf of the European Union (EU) yesterday. They were accompanied by four young children, the winners of a drawing and writing competition on the topic of "peace, Europe, future".

The symbolism could not be more fitting: generations of Europeans have worked to build peace and reconciliation among their nations, so their children could enjoy a future free from the fear and ravages of war.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision, announced in October, puts the focus "on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace".

The EU was - and remains to this day - a peace project conceived to avoid history repeating itself following two devastating World Wars, both of which originated in Europe. In the middle of the 20th century, when much of war-torn Europe still lay in ruins, the notion of European integration - even for ordinary citizens - chiefly embodied the hope for peace.

Just six years after the end of World War II, France and Germany, along with Italy and the BENELUX countries, agreed to pool their sovereignty and economic resources, creating the European Coal and Steel Community. Their intention was to ensure that war among these nations became "not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible".

This mostly bureaucratic exercise was the foundation for true and deep reconciliation between former enemies and led to the longest period of peace ever sustained in Western Europe. The Nobel Committee's decision this year underlines the spirit, intent and success of this pact.

With each successive enlargement, the EU has advanced peace and reconciliation and has gradually unified the European continent.

Today, collective memory of Europe's terrible 20th century conflicts is fading. However, the memories of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the traces left by brutal dictatorships in some European nations and the shadows of the Cold war are still very much with us. However, Europeans today also share the liberating experience of the reunification of the continent.

Over the years, the EU has offered a path to democracy to states recovering from military dictatorship (as evidenced by the Greece, Spain and Portugal accessions in the 1980s) and those seeking a viable alternative after the fall of the Iron Curtain (10 Central and Eastern European States joined from 2004 to 2007). More recently, the path towards accession has proved to be a vital stabilising force for the Western Balkans.

Further broadening of European integration through enlargement continues in 2013 with the upcoming accession of Croatia as the 28th member state. As several countries are now aspiring to join the EU, it will continue also in the future. EU accession criteria, however, remain strict.

To be considered for membership, an applicant country must demonstrate its endorsement of common European norms by building and maintaining institutions which guarantee democracy, rule of law, and human rights, alongside a functioning market economy.

Even if, for many Europeans, their present experience is characterised by the recent years of high unemployment rates and economic austerity plans, the aspiration to a continent united in peace and prosperity has not lost its appeal.

The Nobel Peace Prize came just at the right time to remind Europe of the importance of achieving its fundamental objective. It nurtures the hope that Europe will rise above its current and future challenges. The Nobel Peace Prize also prompts Europe's leaders and citizens to frame their current debates on tough economic choices in the much bigger picture.

This is a golden opportunity to realise how European integration has offered clear dividends, over and beyond pure economic rewards.

The practical achievements of European integration are well known: unfettered access to the combined markets of all 27 member states forming together the world's largest economy, free movement for all EU citizens throughout the continent, redistribution mechanisms helping to bridge the inequality gap between Europe's regions and joint investments in the future through research, education and infrastructure. In the international arena, pooling efforts and resources of European nations increase the EU's influence and its capacity to deal with the common challenges of globalisation.

While we celebrate peace in Europe, we are aware that in other parts of the world, armed conflict is still a possibility, if not a reality.

The EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, its civilian and military operations all over the world as well as its wide ranging humanitarian and aid efforts are potent instruments to assist countries' transition to peace and stability.

In a gesture rich in symbolism, the award money granted to the EU with the Nobel Peace Prize will be devoted to projects supporting children who are victims of war and conflict.

Ambassador Marc Ungeheuer is the head of delegation of the European Union to Singapore.