The Nobel Peace Prize is a wake-up call for Europe

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From the moment the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU was made, social media has been buzzing with incredulity and amusement – after all, this was the prize that Mr Obama seemed to pick up so recently just for being Mr Obama.

But the prize is a timely reminder that the EU project – for all its flaws and its current undeniable problems – is a success story that is worth celebrating.  Fundamentally it is a project of peace, founded on the memories of the horrifying first half of the Twentieth Century, when Europe showed what it was capable of when it did not try to work together.

Since then the EU’s of pooling of sovereignty and working together in the name of peace and prosperity has been a model for regional international cooperation. Although it would be crazy to oversell its success – witness the scenes in Athens this week during the visit of Mrs Merkel – it has proved attractive enough to draw people and nations in, creating a remarkable zone of peace in a historically conflict-riven continent, now encompassing 27 member states.

There have been failures along the way – the EU’s sad (and even shameful) record in Bosnia stands out, and recent attempts to deal with instability and conflict such as that in Libya and Syria shows that the EU is still a long way short of being the unified and effective actor that some wish for. But ECFR’s work in areas such as the Middle East and Wider Europe show that it does have a wide ranging and positive impact that often goes on under the radar and out of sight of the news cameras.

However the main impact of the Nobel Prize may be that of reminding European leaders that there is much at stake if they fail to tackle the existential crises that the EU now faces. As Sebastian Dullien reminded us earlier this week in his paper on the dangers the single market faces, the achievements of the European project are under threat, whether through inaction, infighting, vanity or self-interest. The successes hang in the balance.

Proponents of the European project should be proud at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, but they should also note that the incredulity and even scorn of some observers is also valid. It is up to the leaders and people of the EU to show that the award is justified, not just because of what the EU has achieved, but for what it should continue to achieve long after the current crisis is over. 

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