European Union Nobel Peace Prize winners pledged at the award ceremony yesterday “to stand by” the euro, saying the single currency was one of the strongest symbols of unity in the bloc’s 60-year history.
“Today, one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone’s hands,” said Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president. “It is the euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it.”
The EU was handed the prize as it faces its worst crisis in six decades for turning Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace”.
With a score of EU heads of state and government looking on, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland handed the prize to EU president Herman van Rompuy, Barroso and European parliament president Martin Schulz.
Recalling the 80 million European victims of war and extremism last century, Jagland said: “Peace must not be taken for granted. We have to struggle for it every day.”
However, his committee has come under criticism for giving the award to the EU when it is riven by divisions and violent anti-austerity protests.
“We are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect. Europe needs to move forward,” he said. “Safeguard what has been gained and improve what has been created, enabling us to solve the problems threatening the European community today.”
Based on the will of old enemies France and Germany to reconcile after three bloody wars, the EU will grow from six states to 28 next July when Croatia becomes the latest of the Balkan nations, embroiled in conflict only 20 years ago, to join the bloc.
The leaders of France and Germany, Francois Hollande and Dr Angela Merkel, rose to take a long round of applause from the dozens of dignitaries assembled in Oslo City Hall as the Nobel medal, diploma and almost €1-million (HK$9.9 million) prize were handed to the organisation’s top officials. But half a dozen EU leaders, including Britain’s David Cameron, snubbed the event, taking place just four days before a key summit to determine the pace and next steps in attempts to forge a tighter union.
The EU is bristling with talk of a walkout by Britain and Nigel Farage, head of the eurosceptic UKIP party, said on Sunday that “far from bringing peace, the EU is engendering violence, poverty and despair across Europe”.
Rich nations of northern Europe and the struggling economies of the south are increasingly divided as austerity reforms trigger fiery protests.
Tensions too remain between the 17 nations that share the euro and those that remain outside. And differences between France and Germany are notably holding up a deal to set up a banking union seen as a key to the future of the euro zone.