Some thoughts concerning the EU’s Nobel Peace Prize

Jose Manuel Panero

MA in Economics for Competition Law candidate, King’s College London; LL.M in European Law, College of Europe

Andrea Redondo

LL.M in European Law and Economic Analysis, College of Europe; BSc Economics and Finance LSE; LLB, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and Universidad Complutense of Madrid



On 12 October 2012 it was announced that the European Union (hereafter “EU”) has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.[i] The award ceremony took place two months later, on 10 December. In anticipation of the tidal effect of such a landmark event, this article intends to provide some thoughts on the most important questions related to the awarding of such a distinguished prize to the EU.

(i)    What has the EU done to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Does the EU really deserve it?

Considering that world peace can be safeguarded only by creative efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it, convinced that the contributions which and organized and vital Europe can make to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations, recognizing that Europe can be built only through practical achievements which will first of all create real solidarity, and through the establishment of common bases for economic development, anxious to help, by expanding their basic production, to raise the standard of living and further the works of peace, resolved to substitute for age-old rivalries of their essential interests; to create, by establishment an economic community, the basis for the broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared”. These words are not part of the brainstorming activity to draft the speech of the three representatives who received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the EU. Most of the attentive readers will recognise in the sentences above the full preamble of the early ECSC Treaty,[ii] signed in 1951. And as readers know, it is not by chance that the word ‘peace’ had such a prominent role within it, as well as in the preambles of the EEC Treaty[iii] and the EURATOM Treaty.[iv]

Contrary to what younger generations might think, the EU (and, to a greater extent, its predecessors, the European Communities) is not all about the Euro and the Eurozone, travelling within – most of – Europe without the need to show one’s passport or the Erasmus programme. Older generations will probably also have a partial view of the influence of the supranational creature in their lives (e.g. mountains of butter and lakes of milk and wine, or even Margaret Thatcher claiming a rebate for the UK before her peers). We should perhaps go even further in time, to previous generations, who experienced the horrors of the Second World War.  They can probably certify much better than us what the supranational and polymorphic creature has given to Europe: a period of relative peace, something quite unusual in its recent history.

One might doubt of the true intentions of the ‘founding fathers’ when establishing the original structures; it might be true that they had ‘a vision’, they were ardent federalists and wanted to go ahead with a supranational entity because they were heartily-convinced of the idea and the spill-overs that their creation would generate.[v] Alternatively, it might have been the case that they simply acted strategically defending their own countries in the difficult context they had to face and that, consequently, supranational structures that facilitated peace arose only by chance.[vi] There is however a fact that cannot be denied: the members of the current EU – at least once they have taken part of it – have not entered into war with each other for the incredibly long period, at least for precedent European standards, of over 65 years. And for most of 60 of them, Member States have found in the early “Communities” and now the Union, a channel of cooperation and (variable) integration that most probably has largely contributed to the consecration of this reality.

The idea of the establishment of common structures which would render impossible in the future what was so vivid in people’s memory at the time when the Treaties were drafted certainly was a driving force for their conclusion. The creation of an “ever closer union”[vii] was profoundly rooted in Monnet’s idea that it is “better [to] fight around a table than on a battle-field”.[viii] This was recalled at the awarding ceremony, and Herman Van Rompuy was indeed right when he said that in order to avoid wars within the EU, “boring politics is only a small price to pay”.[ix]

We are certainly not in a position to determine precisely whether the long period of peace we have enjoyed is the consequence, the cause or an unrelated factor of the EU´s existence. However, let’s give the Union at least the benefit of the doubt, and if it has contributed – or at least facilitated – this period of peace within Europe – as we do believe, it should without any doubt deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

This major achievement does not however come without criticisms in terms of the contributions the bloc could have provided to the peace when it comes to situations outside its borders but in neighbouring regions. In this respect, the position taken by the EU in the conflicts which took place in the Balkans in the 90’s is one of the most blatant. It seems that while it has achieved a tremendous success in avoiding military disputes amongst its members, it has failed to project a unified voice and all its power when it comes to stopping external wars in which its members do not a have a defined unified position.

Some have preached that the current situation within the Eurozone can be compared to an economic war[x] and that the EU has “lost its way in the crisis”.[xi] It is undeniable that the Union is not in its best days ever (although it is not entirely clear that, at the end of the road, the EU would not become a closer union), but we nevertheless strongly disagree with those arguing in such an apocalyptic manner and who generally claim that the Euro is the EU’s major – and perhaps only – achievement.

In any event, and even if the most pessimistic forecasts will be fulfilled, what has been achieved during more than 60 years cannot be denied. The EU has largely contributed to turn a continent of war into a continent of peace. We are not so naïve as to think that the EU will guarantee the pax perpetua amongst its members, but this is not the reason why the prize has been granted.

(ii)    Why has the Nobel Peace Prize been granted to the EU now?

We consider that the Nobel Peace Prize could have been awarded to the EU at three earlier moments in time:

  • In 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The 1995 Nobel Peace Prize was however awarded jointly to Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms“.
  • In 2007, when the Treaty of Rome turned 50. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was however awarded jointly to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change“.
  • In 2009, when the Treaty of Lisbon – together with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – entered into force and the EEAS, “Europe’s Foreign Office” was created. The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was however awarded to Barack H. Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples“.

Why did the Norwegian Nobel Committee fail to jump on any of these three great opportunities to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU? Was it because the EU did not previously fulfill the nomination criteria? Most likely not. Is it because the EU had not previously been nominated? Or was it because other nominees had greater and more impressive achievements deserving the Prize? Could be. We will however only know the sheer reasons behind this decision in 50 years’ time, once the Nobel nomination database becomes publicly available according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation.[xii] In the meantime, all we can do is speculate about the reasons underlying the decision.

However, instead of looking backwards as to what could have been but wasn’t, we prefer having a forward-looking approach and analysing the reasons why the prize has been awarded to the EU in 2012.

We strongly believe that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the EU in 2012 due to a cumulus of factors. First, and most importantly, as we have explained above, since its creation in 1957, the EU has constantly fought in favour of a stable and continuous peace in Europe. It has also proclaimed the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,[xiii] consecrating at EU level the democracy and human rights pre-existing at national level.

Our intuition is also in accordance with statistics. As a matter of curiosity, it is worth noting that the average age of all Nobel Peace Laureates between 1901 and 2011 is 62 years. Yet, the ECSC would have – if it hadn’t expired in 2002 – turned 61 in 2012. The European construction is thus only one year younger than the average Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Over these 61 years the EU has sufficiently demonstrated that it truly deserves this Prize even if it is slightly younger than the average and that it has attained in 2012 the ripeness and maturity worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

However, some people have raised voices claiming that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 is nothing but a strategic political decision. Now that the EU – or at least the Eurozone – seems to be tearing apart due to the bailout of several of its Member States, there are important difficulties in keeping the Euro abreast and there are continuous attacks of foreign investors to the EU’s financial markets, some claim that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the EU in order to avoid an economic catastrophe which could not only make strongly shake the foundations of the EU as such but also have an significant macroeconomic impact well beyond the European borders. In other words, some claim that this award should be regarded as a “bond” of all the pieces of the European jigsaw for the benefit of the whole humankind. We understand the rationale behind this thinking and somehow adhere to it, but we nevertheless strongly consider that this is only a secondary – albeit important – reason, the main reason remaining the EU’s very important achievements in the field of peace-keeping.

(iii)  How will this impact on the EU’s future position in international negotiations?

It goes without saying that nothing should ever be the same for the EU when it comes to the international arena and peace negotiations with third parties.

Being a Laureate of the Nobel Prize not only means that the Laureate has “been good” in his/her field in the past, it also – and perhaps more importantly – implies that the Laureate becomes a solid reference and maybe even the example to follow for others moving forward.

Consequently, the EU will need to take a step forward and take the leadership in the field of peace negotiations. It will also have to intensify its efforts in order to fight for a worldwide and lasting peace. The EU will no longer be able to hide behind the sovereignty of Member States in the field of Foreign Affairs. It will need to find an internal consensus, which it will need to defend internationally with more commitment than it has done in the past when it came to peace negotiations outside its own borders.

The EU will – unfortunately – have plenty of opportunities to put its new responsibility and leadership into practice. As a “new graduate”, the EU will need to take a common position and act in a responsible manner with respect to each and every vitally important conflict which is currently occurring, such as the conflicts in the Gaza Strip and Israel more generally, Syria and Iran.[xiv]We sincerely hope that the EU will not deceive all those undefended people around the globe who may have deposited in the EU their most ardent hope for peace

[i] The Nobel Peace Prize 2012 – Press Release, 22 Nov 2012,

[ii] Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), available at

[iii] Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (1957), available at

[iv] Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (1957), available at

[v] See the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950; J. Monnet Memoirs, Doubleday 1978; H. Brugmans, L’ Idée européenne 1918-1965, Bruges, 1965; H. Brugmans Prophètes et fondateurs d l’Europe, Bruges, 1974, W.Lipgens, A History of European Integration, 1945-1947 vol. 1 The Formation of the European Unity Movement, Oxford, 1982.

[vi] For a dispassionate opinion on the reasons of the earlier leaders of the EC members for the founding of the Communities see A. Milward ‘The lives and teachings of the European saints’ in A. Milward, G. Brennan and F. Romero, The European Rescue of the Nation State, Routledge, 2000. For a perhaps more balanced opinion on the context they faced and the early times of the Communities see D. Dinan Europe Recast; A History of the European Union, Palgrave, 2004.

[vii] See the preamble of the EEC Treaty note v supra.

[viii] Authors’ translation of the sentence «Mieux vaut se disputer autour d’une table que sur un champ de bataille».

[ix] From war to peace: European Union accepts Nobel Prize.