After the European Union (EU) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2012, many have questioned whether the EU deserves the Prize. Pro-Europeans have interpreted it as recognition for achieving the unique world’s supranational union of states in peace and an encouragement to face current difficulties amid the worst financial crisis known in the Union. Meanwhile, Eurosceptics see the award as “a joke” undermining the credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize itself and not reflecting the current European reality.
In its announcement, the Nobel Peace Committee alleges that “the Union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe” and concludes that the EU represents “fraternity between nations”. However, is that the existing situation?
Peace and fraternity? The EU: more divided than ever
There are numerous indicators showing that the EU might be more divided than ever in its 60 years of life. The economic crisis and in particular the struggle of Mediterranean countries to stabilize their economies have created tensions between the North and the South of Europe, being the latter constantly reprimanded for being “irresponsible” and “idle”.
In addition, severe austerity measures implemented by member states upon the troika’s “encouragement” have, on the one hand, created strong tensions between citizens and their governments – the latest obsessed with reducing public debt; and, on the other hand, have risen a sort of rejection from citizens towards the EU itself.
These circumstances have reinforced nationalists’ discourse with a wave of desire for independence shaking Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom’s soils and extreme right-wing parties adding supporters by ballot across Europe as national elections in Greece, France and The Netherlands as well as autonomic elections in Spain and communal elections in Belgium have shown in 2012.
In this context, fraternity and harmony might not define the current EU reality. Moreover, the EU founding values (peace, democracy and human rights) recognised by the Nobel Peace Committee are neither at their zenith these days.
Austerity undermines EU values
Austerity has been taken so seriously by member states to recover from the economic crisis that this may be the “new value” of the EU. However, this new standard underpins the previous and original values in which the EU lies on and which the Nobel Peace Committee has just recognized.
Indeed, democracy and basic rights are being jeopardized by budget cuts in education, health and social security systems as well as gradual increase of taxes which dooms a significant part of society to the most absolute poverty.
What is more, on the contrary of what governments proclaim, austerity is far from being the recipe against the crisis. In the case of Spain, “harsh further austerity” is “pointless pain”, since it “will raise unemployment while making no significant dent in either the fiscal problem or the competitiveness problem”, states the economist and The New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman.
In a recent visit to Spain, Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, has reminded that similar austerity plans promoted by the IMF and implemented during the 1980s ruined Latin America for 20 years.
Severe austerity is actually condemning EU citizens to unemployment. Eurostat’s latest estimates show that unemployment rose by 2 145 000 to 25.751 million in the EU-27 in September 2012, and 2 174 000 in the euro area to 18.490 million compared with the previous year.
US congressional reporter Brian Beutler and Paul Krugman talk about the “austerity bomb”, which will further destroy employment and accelerate recession in 2013.
Economic uncertainty and citizens’ dissatisfaction, poverty and hopelessness characterize the current European reality. Consequently, a new kind of war is taking place in Europe today: it is waged in the streets by citizens against their governments’ “austerity booms”.
The War against austerity
The “fever” for austerity measures is more aggressively promoted and enforced in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy given their difficulties to face the economic woes and their high sovereign debts.
People are losing their homes, their employment, their rights and dignity, their hopes and even dying or killing themselves not being able to cope with misery and the humiliation of losing everything they have reached during a life of effort. In 2012 the 32% of suicides in Spain have been provoked by the economic crisis. Reportedly, about 10 Spaniards have committed suicide before being evicted or for not being able to reimburse their debts.
While citizens are in a permanent struggle for survival, constant austerity plans show no mercy from their governments. People are responding with protests and strikes. Spain counts two general strikes and numerous demonstrations in 2012. Similar has to be said about Portugal and Greece.
European citizens are unifying to also protest against the EU blaming its institutions for dictating the strict austerity measures taken by their governments. On 14 November, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish citizens lead a European demonstration against the “austerity dictatorship”.
In brief, the EU and its member states are not protecting European citizens from poverty, are not guaranteeing basic rights such as access to education and healthcare and are not respecting democracy by taking measures thousands of citizens have expressly rejected through public protests.
Therefore, does the EU deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?
If it is recognition to the EU project and its values, then the answer could be positive. There is no doubt that from its birth, 60 years ago, the EU has lived a period of prosperity and peace. This does not mean that its member states have not contributed or benefited from wars fought somewhere else.
Anyway, if all the 60-years of peace, the EU project and its values are to be recognized, it is fair to say that more than the Union itself, its mentor and one of its most well-known founders, Mr Robert Schuman, would rather deserve the Prize. Nevertheless, he was never neither awarded nor nominated while alive, according to the Nobel Prize’s nomination database, and a postmortem Prize is forbidden.
If it is recognition to what the EU has done during 2012, then the answer would rather be negative for all what is stated above. Citizens are suffering from exorbitant unemployment rates and poverty and a war between citizens and their governments is taking the streets. Moreover, integration is at stake, division is part of the current EU reality, the EU funding values are under threat by austerity and the EU is confronting a huge wave of unpopularity.
An encouragement and a reminder
Many, including the President of the European Parliament, Mr Martin Schulz, have interpreted the Prize as an encouragement given the difficult economic and social situation the old continent is going through. However, encouragement to whom?
Considering the arguments given by the Nobel Peace Committee to award the prize, and in case it is an encouragement, it might rather be addressed to European citizens to keep protesting for the defense of their fundamental rights and the EU founding values in general.
Perhaps it is a call to member states to remember that the past 60 years of peace were preceded of wars bred by poverty, oppression and hunger.