Has the European Union contributed to the fact that Europe has enjoyed more than six decades of peace? Has it earned the Nobel Peace Prize as a consequence? Of course it has! But the problem lies in just how clear the answers to those questions are. Choosing the EU as the recipient is completely without risk. Apart from a few misguided figures from the far right or left, nobody will offer serious misgivings.
Even the political signal the award sends is rather trite. In the depths of the common currency crisis, the Norwegian Nobel Committee's Friday announcement makes clear, it is important to remember what the EU stands for. Europe, in other words, doesn't just stand for unwieldy debt loads and shared liability for that debt, but is rather a community of nations that, after centuries of war, finally realized that more binds them than divides them. Europeans didn't just join together for agrarian subsidies and a leg up on exports -- and we now have to be careful that the ongoing rhetoric about the broke Greeks and the selfish Germans don't destroy that which was built over the course of 60 years.
That is the message that can be read between the lines of the Friday announcement from Oslo. And no reasonable person will have serious objections.
At the same time, however, the truth of the European Union also includes that fact that much is currently going wrong within the bloc. And blame for that can be laid at the doors of EU leaders, particularly those in Germany and France. They are no longer fighting for European unity as uncompromisingly as they did 20 years ago.
Important European Questions
The European Commission shares much of the blame. Under current Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, it has allowed itself to be pushed to the perimeter. While the Commission focuses its energies on banning conventional light bulbs and other bureaucratic mini-projects, the most important European questions are being decided in backrooms deep within ministries in Paris, Berlin and even Athens. Or in informal Euro Group meetings. Or in the European Central Bank's Frankfurt skyscraper.
The result is that it has become unclear who actually is leading the EU. Indeed, the discussion as to who will be allowed to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 in Oslo will be an interesting one. Barroso, the great dithering tactician? Herman Van Rompuy, the largely unknown president of the European Council? Or perhaps the president of Cyprus? His name (Dimitris Christofias) is known to but a few, but Cyprus currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union -- a body not to be confused with the European Council.
Once those three names are thrown into the ring, a fourth is sure to follow. Martin Schulz is president of the European Parliament, and has never been one to shy away from center stage.
Something Isn't Quite Right
It is, of course, the institution which has been chosen as the winner of the Peace Prize and not a specific individual. But the fact that none of the preceding quartet seem to be quite the right choice for receiving the prize shows that something is wrong with the EU.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's best choices have always resulted in the prize being bestowed on individuals who devoted their lives to the struggle for peace and freedom -- and, by extension, for a great idea, a deserving institution or a courageous movement. This year too, the opportunity was there to honor the European Union while at the same time making it clear that the EU of Barroso and Merkel is far away from the EU's founding ideals.
Why, then, didn't the committee choose to give the prize to Jacques Delors? The French Socialist was president of the EC/EU Commission from 1985 to 1994 and is widely considered to be the most determined living fighter for European unity. Many see his term in office as coinciding with the best phase the EU has yet enjoyed. In contrast to Barroso, he stood for drive and decisiveness. He didn't allow himself to be marginalized by member-state leaders, rather he led them toward integration. Even today, the 87-year-old is still active in the so-called Spinelli Group, which aims to make Europe more democratic and less defined by national interests by granting European Parliament a more central role.
The decision on Friday to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was the correct one. Giving it to Delors, however, would have been both correct and courageous.