The European Union has received the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Norway. The award comes for the group's role in "stabilizing" Europe and transforming it "from a continent of war to a continent of peace."
Nobel committee chairman Thorbjörn Jagland presented the 930,000 euro ($1.2 million) prize Monday afternoon at the Oslo City Hall.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz accepted the award on behalf of the EU.
Four young Europeans and 20 EU heads of state also attended the event, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
Choosing a winner
The award comes despite the EU's ongoing financial crisis, which has seen protests and unrest across the continent. Tension is high as governments pass increasingly controversial austerity measures amid rising unemployment and debt.
"We are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect," Jagland said. "Europe needs to move forward. Safeguard what has been gained. And improve what has been created, enabling us to solve the problems threatening the European community today."
The Norwegian Nobel committee has chosen to focus on the EU's efforts over the past 60 years to bring peace to the formally restive areas of the "old continent."
"The division between East and West has to a large extent been brought to an end; democracy has been strengthened; many ethnically based national conflicts have been settled," the committee said when it first announced the EU as winner on October 12, at the time an unexpected decision.
Four previous Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu, said last week that the EU does not deserve the prize, calling it unlawful.
On Sunday, around 1,000 protesters from left-wing and human-rights groups marched in Oslo, saying the EU was not a rightful beneficiary under the terms laid out by Alfred Nobel, who established the prize in his 1895 will.
Rights group Amnesty International criticized the EU's human rights record Monday ahead of the ceremony, with its Director of European Institutions Office Nicolas Berger saying, "EU leaders mustn't bask in the glow of the prize."
"Xenophobia and intolerance are on the rise throughout Europe, and growing numbers of political leaders are promoting anti-Muslim, anti-Roma, anti-migrant, and anti LGBTI messages and enjoying increasing popularity," said Berger.
Prize money donated
The prize money will be given to projects that help children struggling in war zones. The recipients will be announced next week, and the EU has said it will match the prize money with a donation of its own.
The EU began with six countries in the 1950's who agreed to pool their coal and steel production. In 2012, membership stands at 27, and is expected to increase by one when Croatia joins next year.
The prizes for medicine, chemistry, physics and literature will be awarded at similar ceremonies in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, which are always held on the anniversary of Nobel's 1896 death.
dr/sej (Reuters, dpa, AP, IPS)