Europe’s Nobel Wake-Up Call

MADRID – In a decision criticized and praised in equal measure, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union in recognition of its contributions “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe” over the past six decades. But, to what extent is Europe preoccupied with “perpetual peace” at the expense of its current, vastly different ailments? Is this award a swan song –confirmation of the moribund state of the European project, as the 2001 Nobel Prize was for the United Nations?

In announcing the prize, the committee explained how “the work of the EU represents fraternity between nations.” While it acknowledged that “the EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest,” it highlighted the EU’s role as a beacon of hope – a democratic anchor, particularly meaningful for peoples who have lived through the horrors of dictatorships.

But it is precisely the mismatch between the EU’s past achievements and its current distress that has fueled anger and led to its rejection by many Europeans. That is why the prize has invited comparisons to an Oscar lifetime achievement award that comes only when the recipient is nearing death.

The decision to establish the EU was an ingenious response to the biggest challenge of the day – war and conflict. And, of course, the resurgence of nationalism and extremism of all kinds around the world is a potent reminder, as if any were needed, that peace is not to be taken for granted. But the prospect of war in Europe now seems like a remote threat, and the varnish of the EU’s past success seems to have faded, even to those who have not forgotten the bloodstains beneath.