The peace prize shows the limits of EU’s noble mission

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I must say I am in two minds about the Nobel Committee's decision to award the EU this year's peace prize. On Saturday I was listening to the Turkish Prime Minister’s grandiloquent opening speech at the Istanbul World Forum - no mention of the EU, let alone the splendid news that had just come from Oslo the day before. Instead of acknowledging the award, even by way of mockery, Tayyip spent a good hour bashing about the iniquities of global politics and calling for a just world order giving non-Westerners (Turkey included) their fair share, living up to the best standards of 70s third-worldism. So even neighbours have given up on the EU. It is hard to blame them. What difference does the Union make in regards to Syria's civil war that threatens to suck in Turkey?

On the other hand, despite the oceans of cynicism poured all over Twitter and Facebook, I am sort of happy for the EU. It is the encouragement it badly needs in times of trouble as the whole edifice of European integration is getting shakier by the day. And we in post-communist Eastern Europe know too well what the EU delivered in terms of economic freedom and democratic advancement over the past two decades. Frankly, Turkish liberal intelligentsia, disappointed as it may be, nostalgises about the golden era between 1999 and 2007 when the European anchor pushed forward domestic change.

Yet one could not help but see the irony. Unlike major EU members like Germany, Norway, the home of the Nobel Prizes, fought in the Libya campaign. In this instance, Oslo thought that peace equalled interventionism. Many in the EU opted for non-interference - evoking their commitment to peaceful foreign policy. So who gets the prize: civilian power Europe or liberal interventionists? And if it is the latter could we afford to forget for a day or two the tragedy unfolding Aleppo and Homs? When Assad’s war planes indiscriminately drop on civilians loads of TNT, the invention of a certain Alfred Nobel.

Well, of course, it is about Europe’s overall achievement of making war unthinkable across wide swathes of the continent. We are now belatedly reaping the honours due to grand figures of the past such as Monnet, Adenauer and De Gaulle (everyone is getting ready for the 2013 anniversary of the Franco-German Treaty of Elysée).

But did the Oslo committee remain oblivious to the fact each and every euro-pundit and pollster is fond of stressing: the narrative of European integration as an engine of peace that was once so prominent is not working anymore. Today’s EU-ropeans take peace for granted (though this might not be the case of Croatians, set to join in less than a year).

But the (tentative) new narrative of Europe as purveyor of peace in the world is even less convincing. European publics are unwilling to pay in treasury and human lives for spreading peace and stability beyond the confines of the Union. Austerity has sapped military budgets. We Europeans are all too happy to free ride on America's hard power, even if US is set to ’pivot’ its security policy away from us and our neighbourhood.

Our best bet has been and still is to tout EU as a model for global governance, not a regional policeman. Show the way forward to nations how to pool sovereignty to tackle transnational issues, from the environment to financial markets. But the sceptic in me reminds me that the underlying conditions for such an ambitious undertaking include a conductive balance of hard power in the international system. With the current crisis Europe's credibility is waning too. If Europe doesn't work even in Europe, how can we sell it to a G20 world?  And frankly who cares if some Europeans are back-tapping other Europeans, even if the prestigious award like the Nobel Prize is the occasion.

But not all is lost. The EU is still an economic giant and has the capacity to shape globalisation to a considerable degree. The present slow-down in China and other emerging economies, not to mention the fiscal cliff US is heading towards, is a reminder that the EU is still in the game. But I hope next time we hear this in New Delhi, Seoul and indeed Istanbul – and not in Oslo.

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