Does the European Union deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Ahead of the award ceremony, this question is voiced increasingly openly. Amnesty International is skeptical. Even within the EU, not everybody is convinced.
There are scenes of drama every day in the Mediterranean Sea. Tiny boats crammed with North African refugees steer towards the Italian island of Lampedusa, or the Spanish mainland. Many of the passengers die on their way. In Western European television news reporting, however, it seems like the pictures of sunken ships and of people who've drowned or died of thirst have become some morbid ritual. But several thousand people are ready to risk everything to get closer to their dream of a better life in Europe. And ever since the Arab Spring in North Africa, refugee numbers have swelled.
The surge in desperate migrants from North Africa severely tests Europe and its highly appreciated open border philosophy. For when it comes to dealing with illegal refugees, the EU member states have not been able to agree on important matters for years. Opinions about aid measures or deportation differ greatly. That is why some say the European Union does deserve the Nobel Peace Prize in full. Wolfgang Grenz is one of them. He is the General Secretary of Amnesty International Germany. "Europe's sealing-off policy is partly responsible for the deaths of human beings in the Mediterranean Sea", Grenz told Deutsche Welle.
Discrimination of minorities
Grenz believes that has to change immediately and that the EU had better own up to its responsibility. In the interview with DW, he addressed the current developments on the Greek-Turkish border, where there are much stricter controls now. This, in turn, he said, forced an increasing number of people to trying to escape violence and persecution in their home countries to access Europe via the much more dangerous Mediterranean sea route in boats that are definitely not fit for water.
"And after they're caught in the Mediterranean in theory they would have to get access to the asylum proceedings in a member state of the European Union. But very often, that doesn't happen", the head of the German section of Amnesty International explained. Most refugees are young men between the ages of 16 and 30, looking for work. That is why the European Union considers them to be economic migrants and not asylum seekers, suffering from war or persecution in their home countries. That is why they are sent back home – an application of EU law.
Grenz also addressed the EU's anti-discrimination-guideline that member states have to adopt and turn into national law. He said there was a backlog in Brussels. The EU made an important step when it introduced the guideline, he said. But in real life, discrimination of Romany gypsies and other minorities, for example, was still widespread in many countries of the European Union, the head of Amnesty Germany criticized. "The Romany don't have the same access to our system of education, to the health system, to accommodation, to the labor market like other citizens." In addition, he said, some member states did not do enough to combat violent attacks on Romany citizens. "That's a very sensitive spot, where the EU has to do a lot more in the future." These examples showed that the EU often was not living up to the expectations it sets for others when it comes to human rights.
Letter of protest to Nobel committee in Stockholm
Grenz is not the only one to voice this kind of criticism. Three Nobel Peace Prize laureates have openly said that the EU does not deserve the award. The union of states too often contradicted the values that the award represented, wrote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire and Argentinian civil rights activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel in a joint letter addressed to the Nobel committee in Stockholm a few days ago. The EU was "clearly not part of those protagonists of peace" who Alfred Nobel had in mind in 1895 when he first invented the prize, the letter continued. The EU and the Nobel committee were subsequently at a loss to explain the decision, just ahead of the award ceremony this Monday (10.12.2012).
In Brussels, the mood was certainly not one of popping the corks either. Even members of the European Parliament keep their distance to the award. Franziska Keller, from the Greens faction, wrote in her blog "I'd just come back from jogging when I saw the press statement by the Parliament's President, Martin Schulz. I briefly wondered whether today's date has any link in any April 1 prank. But no. Are you joking?" Keller was worried about what she called the ‘Obama effect', an award for possible performance still to be delivered in the future, which the EU may or may not achieve.
Talking to DW, the 31-year-old gave a downbeat assessment. It was important, she said, to acknowledge Europe's contribution to peace, "but what we're currently seeing is the opposite of that. With our foreign, trade and agricultural policy, or with our refugee policy, we are rather a contributing factor when people are in need elsewhere." Judging from a migratory policy point of view, Keller said there was no justification for the award.
Sign of warning for the European Union
And that was also true for agricultural policy, Keller added. It was partly responsible for environmental damage and climate change. All of which are examples "where you can't really say that the EU is decorating itself with glory." And yet, despite all the shortcomings, the critics agree that to a certain extent the EU is a guarantor of peace on a continent that has been ravaged by two world wars. Everybody also agrees that integrating Central and Eastern European states after the fall of the Berlin Wall was a historical achievement, because it instantly helped improve the human rights situation in most accession countries.
But these highlights happened several years ago. Currently, all actions and thoughts are devoted to resolving the euro crisis. Fiscal pacts, rescue mechanisms and troika reports have pushed human rights and environmental protection measures aside. EU Parliamentarian Keller hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize will bring the European Union the necessary impetus to correct that. Accepting the prize, Keller said, means seeing it "as a kind of warning sign to the EU that the bloc ought to finally start promoting human rights, rights of liberty and peace. Because they're being neglected."