THE Nobel Peace Prize selection this year really does take some beating. We have seen some pretty strident criticism, and good comedy, emerging from its decision to award the trophy to the European Union (EU). Thorbjorn Jagland, the head of the selection committee, was already on record before the announcement as saying: “I expect that there will be some debate, we hope there will be.”
Debate would be putting it mildly. Why did the board, of all the 231 candidates on offer, plump for a political choice? It certainly wasn’t for lack of decent names. One betting company had as its prime candidate a welfare worker who runs a children’s mission in Cairo; while other front-runners included religious leaders who had helped reduce tensions in Nigeria. Even if worthy nominees hadn’t been submitted, the committee has decided not to award the prize on 19 previous occasions.
Of course, it all boils down to politics. The board is, after all, selected on the basis of party strengths in the Storting, Norway’s Parliament. What’s perhaps astonishing is the end choice given that Norway has twice rejected joining the EU in referenda: the first of which triggered the resignation of the fisheries minister in opposition; the second raising real scares of a grab of Norwegian oil and gas.
Jagland, the chair, is a former Prime Minister and foreign minister, with 16 years’ back history liaising with the European Parliament, and a track record of openly campaigning for a Nobel for Brussels since 2008. He also happens to be secretary-general of the Council of Europe, which possibly explains why he didn’t nominate his own worthier institution for the prize. His panel deputy, Kaci Kullmann Five, is a former EU cabinet minister and chairman of a pro-EU party. Eurosceptic panellist Agot Valle was ill, and therefore replaced by a Lutheran bishop who is a veteran European networker.
This explains the panel’s views but not the decision. Frankly put, the EU has not brought peace to Europe. The presence of the Third Soviet Shock Army just across the border focused minds in Paris and Bonn after WWII; and war guilt by the Germans has maintained it (the same applies to Japan, not an EU member the last time I checked). Peace came through the US-led NATO, not the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Ironically, it’s precisely EU policies that now threaten its freshly bemedalled achievement: the common fisheries policy is an ecological scandal; European monetary union is catapulting societies into penury and conflict; European level Justice and Home Affairs powers denude parliaments of both.
Even if the next generation of Napoleons and Bismarcks weren’t already doomed to fight over raw materials, setting up a mechanism allowing better access to them remains a positive development. But frankly the world has moved on. Alsace and Lorraine are more likely to be girls’ names than causes of modern conflagration. Grabbing provinces is so last millennium. Dr Lee Rotherham is author of The EU in a Nutshell (Harriman House, 2012).