OSLO, Norway — The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for promoting peace and democracy in Europe — an honor that came as 27-nation bloc was struggling with its biggest crisis since it was created in the 1950s.
The Norwegian prize committee said the EU was being honored Friday for six decades of contributions “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
“The stabilizing part played by the European Union has helped to transform a once-torn Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace,” Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.
The EU grew out of the tremendous devastation of World War II, fueled by the conviction that ever-closer economic ties would make sure that century-old enemies never turned on each other again. It's now made up of 500 million people in 27 nations, with other nations lined up, waiting to join.
But the European project is now facing its greatest challenge yet — a debt crisis that has stirred deep tensions between north and south, caused unemployment to soar, and prompted hundreds of thousands of its citizens to take to the streets protesting tax hikes and job cuts. The bloc's financial disarray is threatening the euro — the common currency used by 17 of its members — and even the structure of the union itself.
Social media exploded with strong reactions Friday, both for and against awarding the prize — worth 8 million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million).
“The EU is an unique project that replaced war with peace, hate with solidarity. Overwhelming emotion for awarding of (hash)Nobel prize to EU,” Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, wrote in a tweet.
“Nobel prize for the EU. At a time Brussels and all of Europe is collapsing in misery. What next? An Oscar for Van Rompuy?” said Dutch euro-skeptic lawmaker Geert Wilders, referring to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.
Normally, the prize committee either honors lifetime achievement, like when longtime peace mediator Martti Ahtisaari won in 2008, or promotes work in progress, such as the 1994 award to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Perez and Yitzhak Rabin, which was meant to boost Mideast peace efforts.
This year's award does both. It recognizes the EU's historical role in fostering peace, but it does so at a time when nationalist forces that once tore the continent apart are on the rise.
“It is indeed a great honor for all the 500 million citizens of Europe, for all the member states, for all the European institutions — this Nobel Prize for peace,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. “It is justified recognition for a unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and also for the benefit of the world.”
The idea of a united Europe began to take a more defined shape when, on May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed that France and the Federal Republic of Germany pool their coal and steel resources in a new organization that other European countries could join.
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