This Year’s Nobel Peace Prize Winner: The European Union

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 12 2012 @ 1:05pm

Dashiell Bennett reflects on the winner:

[A]s many have people are pointing out, awarding the prize to the EU in 2012 seems odd, when the Union itself is being threatened by economic turmoil and the currency union shared by most its members appears to be a massive mistake. Given the current money problems, the prize of $1.2 million almost seems like mockery, though some are interpreting the decision as a giant pep talk for a continent that sorely needs a reminder of what it can accomplish.

That’s basically how Charlemagne understands the award:

Across the EU, popular support for the European project is falling. Britain is openly talking of loosening its ties with the union. Mario Monti, Italy’s prime minister, wants to convene a summit to combat falling support for European integration. In Norway, where the prize announcement was made, a spokesman for the Nobel committee admitted public support for joining the EU was at an all-time low. So the Nobel committee’s prize is really meant as a reminder of what the EU has achieved in helping to transform Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace”. And it is meant as a warning not to let it be swept away in the face of the “emergence of extremism and nationalism”.

Marc Champion defends the selection:

Most important for anyone who closely watched the travails of eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is the role the EU played in tamping down potential conflicts. Yugoslavia is the huge exception that proved the EU’s abject weakness when things go wrong and decisive action is needed. But there is a big chance that without the imperative of staying in the EU’s good graces, Hungary and Romania might also have fought over Transylvania, for example. Serbia, for sure, would be less docile now.

Gideon Rachman has mixed feelings

The EU would doubtless like to take the credit for mid-wifing the establishment of prosperity, democracy etc, across the Union. And doubtless it has played an important role. On the other hand, similar conditions prevail in North America: war between the US, Canada and Mexico is also pretty unlikely. Ditto, Australia and New Zealand. Still, while I don’t think the EU can claim sole credit — or maybe even the main credit — for the establishment of peace in Europe, it surely did no harm. 

Henry Farrell looks at the current state of the union:

The worrying question now is whether the EU can continue to play anything like the pacifying role it did in the 1990s. On the one hand, it has lost its power to persuade outsiders, largely because it isn’t interested in offering membership to troubled countries on its borders anytime soon. The EU’s ability e.g. to influence Turkish policy towards its Kurdish population has diminished dramatically. Russia has succeeded in recreating a zone of control among many of the neighboring states that it once dominated, and has some interest in keeping various ‘frozen conflicts’ (in Transnistria; in the secessionist bits of Georgia) alive. On the other, its ability to influence member states once they have become member states is dramatically lower.

And Joshua Keating fears that the prize will only make matters worse:

[A]s Ronald Krebs pointed out in a 2009 FP piece, the prize often carries unintended consequences for winners. For dissidents like Liu, Sakharov, and Aung San Suu Kyi, it often encourages autocratic governments to crack down further. For powerful leaders, it provides a near-impossible standard to live up to. Obama, for one, likely wishes his critics on both the right and left didn’t have the prize to bring out as a punchline every time they attack his foreign policy.

It would be nice to think the Nobel will encourage European leaders to remember the positive accomplishments of integration along with its obvious drawbacks. But it seems just as likely to only throw more fuel on an already combustible situation.