EU trio defends their Nobel prize

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Three top officials of the European Union (EU) arrived in Oslo on Sunday to collect, and also defend, the Nobel Peace Prize that will formally be awarded to the EU on Monday. One of them, EU President Herman Van Rompuy, had even written a haiku, a Japanese form of a short poem, to express his thoughts on what’s become another controversial prize.

The three EU leaders who will formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU on Monday include (from left) Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy and Martin Schulz. A traditional press conference featuring the winners was, as always, aired live nationwide by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

After war came peace,
fulfilling the oldest wish,
Nobel’s dream come true

Van Rompuy, who earlier said the three men had traveled to Oslo “to celebrate a major achievement,” drew both smiles and applause for his haiku at a press conference at the Norwegian Nobel Institute on Sunday afternoon.  He did not deny that the EU is currently caught in crisis, but claimed it remains “a strong union” in which “former enemies have become partners.”

Both of his colleagues, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, agreed, with Barroso contending that the EU has contributed towards shaping “a better organized world.”  All three men said they were grateful for the opportunity to represent 500 million people in Europe who were part of what they frequently referred to as “an ongoing process” towards both peace and prosperity.

Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that unanimously awarded this year’s Peace Prize to the EU listened intently to the EU leaders’ own defense of the prize. From left: Kaci Kullmann Five, former government minister for the Conservative Party; Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, former Member of Parliament for the Progress Party; Berit Reiss-Andersen, president of the Norwegian Bar Association; and Gunnar Stålsett, former Bishop of Oslo who is sitting in for Ågot Valle, on sick leave. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

They are all acutely aware of criticism against a Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, not just from EU skeptics in Norway which has never joined the EU but also from some former prize winners including  the retired Bishop Desmond Tutu. The EU leaders firmly agreed, however, with Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that annually awards the Peace Prize, that “this is the right moment” to recognize what the EU has achieved so far: Most importantly, more than six decades of peace among EU member nations that earlier were often at war with one another.

The EU is, they readily acknowledged, currently grappling with ways of dealing with member countries that have fallen into enormous debt, threatening the monetary union that itself is still part of a process and setting off massive social unrest. The debt crisis has shown “we were not fully equipped” to deal with it, Barroso conceded, but he and his colleagues seemed convinced they will get the “building blocks” they need to “move forward to more integration, not less.”

Schulz said he views the Peace Prize also as a “warning” that the EU must stick to its ideals and goals of its first generation of founders and its second generation of administrators. He said he didn’t want to be part of a third generation that gambles with its heritage. Van Rompuy agreed.

‘We will overcome’
“The history of the EU has been a series of steps,” Van Rompuy said, starting with a coal and steel union, then a common market, then a period of “suppressing all kinds of restrictions on trade, goods and services,” and most recently, creation of a common currency. “It’s all part of a very long process,” he said. “The work is not over yet. We are going through a difficult period. We will overcome it.”

The hope, they all indicated, is that the EU will emerge stronger from its current crisis. “There is a commitment to go further,” Barroso said.

The three EU leaders will be joined in Oslo on Monday by government leaders from 21 of the EU’s 27 member nations including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. Only a few leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, where anti-EU sentiment is running high, are staying away. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt won’t be attending either, but that’s because he’ll be attending the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm for winners of the other prizes.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 will be officially awarded in a traditional ceremony beginning at 1pm on Monday, the December 10 anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, in the Oslo City Hall. Nobel’s will called for various organizations in his native Sweden to award prizes in literature,

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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