Peace Prize? We're in a financial war, say Europeans
Nobel award is bad joke to some and infuriating to others as recession puts millions out of work
"Is this a joke?" said Chrisoula Panagiotidi, 36, an Athens beautician, laughing derisively upon hearing that the European Union had won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday.
Three days ago she lost her job, becoming one of the one-in-four Greeks who is unemployed in the fifth year of a recession.
Told it was no joke at all, her incredulity quickly turned to disgust. "It mocks us and what we are going through right now," she said. "All it will do is infuriate people here."
Across a continent where the EU's policies are blamed for deepening the worst economic crisis in living memory, many Europeans said they were simply baffled by the prize. Others were outraged.
"I can't get my head around it. They'd be last on my list. It's such a bland and inert organisation," said Philip Deane, 48, an IT consultant walking along the River Liffey in Dublin. "Given the state of the economy, the timing is really, really bad."
Ireland, like Greece, has been forced to turn to the European Union and IMF for a financial bailout, delivered in the framework of a strict austerity programme.
Mariana Fotiou, 69, an Athens lottery ticket vendor, was furious.
"It makes me so angry. We have a financial war on, don't they realise that? The only morale it will boost is Merkel's," she said, referring to the German chancellor, whose insistence on austerity measures as the price for aid has made her a hate figure in Greece. Earlier this week Merkel visited Athens. Protesters burned Nazi flags and clashed with police in fury at her presence.
Merkel said the award was a "wonderful" decision.
The prize "honours the idea of European integration," Merkel said, noting the "years of terrible bloodshed, horrible wars, murder and devastation" that had come before.
Alongside congratulations among the leaders, there were calls too for the EU to live up to its responsibilities as the bloc struggles with soaring unemployment and a slumping economy - causes enough for war in the past. Britain, known for its reservations about EU ambitions, said the bloc must "preserve and strengthen" its achievements after the award recognised its "historic role in promoting peace and reconciliation in Europe".
Even in countries hard hit by the tough economic times, there were still many people who said they understood the logic of awarding a prize to an organisation credited with helping maintain peace for more than half a century on a continent that was ripped apart in two world wars.
"It's a good thing," said 48-year-old Howard Spilane in Ireland, where unemployment has tripled since the crisis hit.
"Europe's in a crisis, but compared to the wars - even compared to the Cold War - Europe is in a better place. People are suffering, but they are not dying. On balance they've achieved a lot."
Such warm responses were also common in parts of Eastern Europe, where many prize membership in the EU as a badge of hard-won European identity and a bulwark against a return of Communist-era totalitarianism.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse