The EU’s Nobel Peace Prize in a global perspective: No time for self-flagellation or complacency

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      For some, this was very poor timing or even a joke. For others the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize could not come at a better moment, now that the EU is confronting the deepest economic and financial crisis in its history.

      Never in the past the European project has been so unpopular amongst its citizens. Some EU member states seem to be more out than in the EU. In spite of the Lisbon Treaty - meant to reinforce the Union’s cohesion and strengthen its standing in foreign relations - Europe is losing ground in the world. Emerging economies, longstanding allies and developing regions increasingly look at it with a mix of disdain and compassion.

      Just one day before the Nobel committee awarded the prize to the EU, top European leaders Barroso and Van Rompuy have been discussing the “State of Europe” at an annual conference organised by “Friends of Europe”, a think tank, in Brussels. A few hundred European leaders, international diplomats, parliamentarians, trade unions, civil society organisations, media and opinion leaders took part in the meeting.

      During the lively discussions, the overall mood was rather inward looking, mostly focusing on the economic and financial crisis in the eurozone, the increasing North-South divide inside the EU and the disconnect between European leaders and citizens. Recipes to tackle the crisis in the eurozone swung between very harsh, harsh and less harsh austerity measures. EU Council President Van Rompuy’s obligatory positive message that there is “increasing confidence and a growing sense that the EU will get out of the crisis” was overshadowed by a rather pessimistic perspective of the state of Europe. Certainly not a single participant would have taken the risk to bet his money on a EU Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded just 24 hours later.

      Surprisingly, non-European participants supported the view that it was not the time for exposing an overly pessimistic perspective on the EU. Throughout its 60 years of history the EU managed to bring peace in Europe through integration, democracy, social development and solidarity. Worldwide, many countries and regions regard the EU’s social model and “Pax Europea” with envy.

      Undoubtedly the international Nobel Peace Prize recognition will give a boost to all those supporting the European project. It is therefore not the time for self-flagellation. But there is also no reason for complacency. The EU is not yet a strong political union nor is it known to be an example of decisiveness and coherent action when it comes to foreign policy. In spite of being the largest aid donor, the EU hasn’t played a credible political role in longstanding conflicts at it’s doorstep in the Middle East and in Africa. Also in tackling major global challenges such as climate change and food security the EU could do better.

      When the Treaty of Lisbon came in force back in 2009, it created high expectations for a more prominent political role of the EU in the world at large. But internal divisions among EU institutions and member states, and the application of double standards in dealing with human rights violations, dictatorship and conflict have undermined the credibility of the EU as a political actor. As a consequence the EU is losing political and economic ground in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

      Hopefully the Peace Prize will be an incentive for the EU to critically review its role and to increase its relevance in the global world.

      In the near future there are some opportunities that the Union as whole and the High Representative Catherine Ashton in particular should not miss. Next year’s review of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Europe’s new diplomatic corps, provides a first opportunity. The review’s outcomes will not make or break the EEAS. Yet let us hope that it nonetheless represents an important milestone for the young service to build a more dynamic and coherent foreign policy able to reconcile Europe’s values and interests.


       Geert Laporte is ECDPM’s Deputy Director.


      This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.


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