LONDON — The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a choice that celebrates Europe’s post-World War II economic and political integration but comes as the 27-nation body confronts widespread criticism over its handling of a massive debt crisis that is by far the biggest challenge of its existence.
The award honored the struggle in Europe to not only hold the union together in the wake of the debt crisis, but also to deepen integration across a vast swath of the region stretching from the isles of Greece to the Scottish Highlands, from the ports of Portugal to northern Finland.
The choice elicited audible gasps from a roomful of journalists who attended the announcement in Oslo. The union has been accused of being slow and overly bureaucratic, and of foisting onto its heavily indebted members a crushing austerity that has crippled domestic economies and sparked social unrest in nations such as Greece and Spain.
“Twenty years ago, this prize would have been sycophantic, but maybe more justified. Today it is downright out of touch,” said Martin Callanan, a Conservative British politician and chairman of the European Conservative and Reformists Party in the European Parliament. “The E.U.’s policies have exacerbated the fallout of the financial crisis and led to social unrest that we haven’t seen for a generation.”
The peace prize decision fed into complaints that the Norwegian Nobel Committee increasingly has strayed from the award’s original ideals — including when it honored President Obama in 2009, just months after he took office. Some critics said the prize is venturing deeper into the realm of political theater.
“It’s just laughable,” Svetlana Gannushkina, a longtime human rights activist in Russia told Interfax. “The award has been depersonalized to such an extent . . . The Nobel Committee could have defended the principles of peace and democracy if it had awarded the prize to those who have worked in this sphere for many years and now need support.”
The Nobel Committee said it wanted to laud the E.U. for safeguarding peace and security and forging a common future for a continent saddled with a dark history of conflict, even as the union confronts its toughest test.
“The E.U. is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest,” Thorbjoern Jagland, the Nobel Committee chairman, said in Oslo. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the E.U.’s most important result, the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the E.U. has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”
And, then, Nigel Farage’s take:
UKIP Leader Nigel Farage has slammed the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union.
“You only have to open your eyes to see the increasing violence and division within the EU which is caused by the Euro project” he said.
“Spain is on the verge of a bail-out, with senior military figures warning that the Army may have to intervene in Catalonia. In Greece people are starving and abandoning their children through desperate poverty and never a week goes by that we don’t see riots and protests in capital cities against the troika and the economic prison they have imposed.
“The next stage is to abandon the Nation state: the awarding of this prize to the EU brings it into disrepute.”
Mr Farage added, ” The last attempt in Europe to impose a new flag, currency and nationality on separate states was called Yugoslavia. The EU is repeating the same tragic mistake. Rather than bring peace and harmony, the EU will cause insurgency and violence.”