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The Nobel: A compliment and a warning to European Union

October 15, 2012 16:32 IST

Like it gave the prize to Barack Obama to make him fulfill the promise of change, the Nobel Committee has given it to the European Union to remind it of its huge responsibility to maintain unity within the organisation, says former ambassador T P Sreenivasan.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee does not cease to surprise the world by the choice of its winners. In recent years, Peace Prizes have been given to an environment activist, an American president who had just begun his first term, and now a regional organisation on the brink of a deep crisis.

The first two could not fulfill the criteria set by Alfred Nobel that they should have done 'the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses'. At best, the committee has been expanding the definition of peace and, at worst, violating the terms of the mandate entrusted to it.

In the case of the European Union, it had done much of what a peace Laureate should have done. But the grave Eurozone crisis that the countries concerned face today makes the award curious. The EU had seen better times before, when such an honour was not bestowed on it.

In a larger sense, however, the European Union does deserve the prize for its work over the last six decades, which brought together 27 nations with different backgrounds and histories into an unprecedented structure with robust institutions.

No other regional organisation has achieved the kind of cohesion that the EU has forged. As the Nobel Committee has noted, the European Union 'contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe... The dreadful suffering in the Second World War demonstrated the need for a new Europe.... Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.'

It took Europe 400 years to reach the present stage of unity and cooperation, but it is presently a model for other regions to emulate.

The first thought that occurred to observers when the news broke was that Norway itself is not a member of the EU. If it had so much admiration for the EU, Norway could have joined the EU. But, on the other hand, it made it easier for the Norwegians to choose the EU for the prize, as they were not part of it.

Ironically, the prize money itself has taken a nosedive on account of the Euro crisis, having been reduced to Swedish Kroners eight million in 2012 as against Swedish Kroners 10 million from 2001 to 2011. The Nobel Foundation has explained that its investment capital took a sharp downturn in the financial crisis of 2008.

One comentary noted that the EU needed the prize money to tide over the current economic crisis. At least Greece would benefit from an infusion of even such a small amount of money.

Clearly, the message from the Nobel Committee is not only a laudatory one, but also a warning. Like it gave the prize to Barack Obama to make him fulfill the promise of change, the Committee has given it to the EU to remind it of its huge responsibility to maintain unity within the organisation amidst reports that the austerity measures imposed by Germany might scare some countries away from the Union.

There were also threats that some countries might be expelled for their extravagance at this time. Germany, which had to make immense sacrifices to bring the Western and Eastern mark to gain parity, was again under pressure to suffer financial losses for no fault of theirs. A dose of advice, therefore, appeared necessary at this juncture.

The truth remains that the Europeans were not solely responsible for the crisis in their economies. It originated in the United States and, if anything, the Europeans helped each other so far to tide over the crisis.

After all, the EU, which started off as the European Coal and Steel Community and became the European Economic Community, is more adept in economics and trade rather than politics and their politics is determined by economic considerations.

The rigorous criteria for membership of the EU are dominated by economic measures and, had it not been for the crisis ignited by the demise of the Lehman Brothers, Europe would have been as prosperous as the Euro originally promised. The countries, which emerged from Communism, lined up for membership, which was seen as panacea for their economic woes.

One immediate problem that the EU faces is who will receive the prize money. It will not be elegant for 27 nations to turn up in Oslo and there are competing structures like the European Council, European Commission and the European Parliament. The obvious choice should be the Trio Presidency, which came into being in 2007.

Instead of one country chairing the EU every six months, three countries operate a joint programme for 18 months. Currently, the three are Poland, Denmark and Cyprus, any one of whom or all of them together could receive the prize. The EU has achieved consensus on much more difficult issues in the past and this should not be a problem.

The Nobel Prize for the EU will help to highlight the unique success of a regional organisation in its history of 60 years. Other organisations like ASEAN have also been successful, but not to the extent that the EU has been.

Farther behind are the African Union and SAARC, which have to travel much more before they can speak with one voice, much less act together in the economic, political or the security area.

Of course, NATO has given the Europeans their sense of security and the alliance is still active not only in Europe, but in other theatres as well. If the Prize gives the EU the confidence to meet the economic situation and emerges united from it, no one will regret the choice this year of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

T P Sreenivasan (IFS 1967) is A former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA, Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council, Thiruvananthapuram, and Member, National Security Advisory Board, Member, India-UK Roundtable, and Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram

For more columns by Ambassador Sreenivasan, please click here

T P Sreenivasan