Nobel Peace Prize a vote of confidence in European project

Vincent Piket says the region will stand firm against extremism despite its economic woes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2012, 1:28am

The Nobel Peace Prize is, this year, an award for the European Union's success in bringing peace, security and prosperity to what used to be a war-torn and divided continent.

For many, including myself, the news of the award to the EU came as a surprise. Not because we were unconvinced of the role the EU has played in uniting Europe, a role that continues, but because Europe's economic woes have made many people lose faith in the European project.

The award is a reminder of what our union stands for - an ideal that transformed a war-ravaged continent into a peaceful union of democracies. From the rubble of war, the wounds of conflict were healed to give former enemies a common future. Since the 1950s, the EU has grown from the original six members to today's 27. A tidal change was the fall of the iron curtain in 1989. The EU offered a perspective of hope and freedom to citizens who had been locked out of the European mainstream for close to 40 years. The process of European integration will continue, with Croatia joining next year, and other countries to follow.

The Nobel Committee also sent us a clear message: that we have to safeguard the union's principles of peace and common endeavour against nationalism and extremism. Just like when we started, the best way to do that is by bringing concrete benefits to our citizens. Europe will have to prove it can bring back growth to its economy, create jobs and provide security to the elderly. And we need to make sure young people can again believe in the possibilities offered by the unified market and by the freedom to travel and reside wherever they see their future. I am convinced the EU is facing up to this task.

Outside Europe, we also have a goal to accomplish: to protect our borders and to help the victims of poverty, conflict and disaster. Around the globe, the EU will continue to champion human rights. We will deploy all our capacities to assist those in need. In the wake of the Arab spring, we refashioned our approach to promote democracy and prosperity together with our neighbours. We are also lending our diplomatic efforts in leading negotiations with Iran, and to secure peace in the Middle East.

I was born 15 years after the second world war, in a Dutch town 15 kilometres from the German border. I have seen how the EU brought reconciliation and peace on the European continent, how truly visionary political leaders dismantled borders and brought people closer, while nurturing national identities and cultural diversity.

The EU has given me and many other citizens a real sense of freedom and of opportunity. The task now is to keep that sense alive and make it real for all.

Vincent Piket is head of the Office of the European Union to Hong Kong and Macau