If you read this article you are likely to be a fellow EU citizen. The EU, that is you, me, all of us. Congratulations to the Peace Nobel Prize, well done, you deserve it! You and 503 million other people are part of this unique success story and all have contributed their small bit to make Europe work.
I do not claim to be an expert on the European Union. However, I was born and raised in a divided Germany, and I remember, rather vaguely that is, the day the Berlin Wall came down. I have spent a quarter of my lifetime in the UK – a country, as we all know, in which EU sceptics won’t hesitate to raise their voice. Moreover, I have friends from all over Europe and consider myself as a strong supporter of the European Idea. I hope this qualifies me to write a few words about the Peace Nobel Prize for the European Union.
I would like to start with a small anecdote:
A couple of months ago I drove up to Coventry to visit some (British) friends of mine. While I was driving in the car I remembered that the city was severely destroyed by the German Luftwaffe in World War Two. There was I, driving up to a city which my forefathers aimed to destroy, but I meet my British friends for a dinner, drinks and a laugh. Post-war Europe: Reconciliation at its best.
The Nobel Prize Committee decided to award this reconciliation process with the Peace Nobel Prize and for a change the EU is set in a positive limelight.
As in the past we did not have to wait for long for the first critics to raise their concern about the decision made by the Nobel Prize Committee. Critical voices remind us on the Euro crisis accompanied by growing frustration and violent protests, especially in Southern Europe. These critics seem to miss a pivotal point. The prize has not been awarded for the EU’s work between 2008 and now, the Prize has been awarded for the work of the last six decades.
Even without the Euro crisis, the EU is not spared with criticism. Some journalists, especially in the tabloid media, seem to be on an ideological crusade and will criticise the EU simply as a matter of principle and transmit during that process a rather warped and nebulous image about the intentions of the EU or simply misinform people for the sake of great headlines. However, the European Union is about much more than what is being decided in Brussels. It is about much more than rampant bureaucracy and the often cited example of “what correctly constitutes a banana or cucumber”. It is about much more than subsidies, and indeed, it is about much more than the Euro. Europe is about an idea, the idea that we can, and indeed should, work together towards the common goals of peace and prosperity.
Many critics claim, and their claims are not necessarily unjustified, that Europe has not achieved the two goals yet. During the 1990s we witnessed the war on the Balkans and especially the conflict in Kosovo keeps smouldering. However, after centuries of warfare, ending in the most terrible war and genocide humankind has ever witnessed, the EU (and NATO) have ensured that we have sustainable peace in large parts of Europe. After WWII the Western European countries decided to finally work together instead of against each other. Just over twenty years ago we witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain that divided Europe for decades. Europe started to work towards unification of East and West. Again, former foes became not only partners and allies, but friends.
Violent protests against austerity measures. Not the idea of a peaceful Europe, but the Prize has also to be considered in the light of the last six decades.
No doubt, the “euro project” went terribly wrong and the Eurozone is in a quandary with global repercussions. The whole of the Eurozone, not just the countries seeking a bailout, needs to take a deep breath, roll up their sleeves and, as we say in German, “pull the cart out of the mud”. Since we live in democratic states working towards a common goal we even have the opportunity to discuss about possible remedies to solve the crisis. The opportunity to “discuss”, often taken for granted, should be cherished and valued. Over the last months the media told us repeatedly that the Eurozone, or indeed the whole of the EU, will fall apart. Well, the EU and the Euro are still here and it is safe to argue that they are here to stay.
We should remind ourselves that the EU in general, and the Euro in particular, is still in its infant years. The EU experiences setbacks, but it is strong enough to learn its lesson and to move on. The idea of Europe is unique in time and space and can serve as a model for other regions. Where else does one find over 500 million people living peacefully together in 27 countries? Where else does one find a region in which such a large number of countries enjoy democracy and a free press? One could continue and name many other advantages that are an often an exception in other regions, but which are taken for granted in Europe.
The EU is about never-ending discussions, bureaucracy and many other aspects which are not tangible for EU citizens. However, the EU is also about peace, prosperity and equality – goals not achieved yet to the degree we wish, but goals that can be achieved in future. Moreover, in an ever more globalised world witnessing the emergence of new global players, even major economies like France, Germany and the UK need to cooperate under the same banner if we want to play a major role in future.
The EU is not perfect and will probably never be, but there are no alternatives. That is why Europe has to and will succeed. We should not be complacent as there is much work to be done. Let us accept this Peace Nobel Prize as an award for what has been attained so far and as and encouragement and duty to achieve even more in future.