German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the European Union with the Nobel Peace Prize.
In a brief press conference 90 minutes after Friday's announcement in Oslo that the EU had been awarded the prize, Merkel said she considered the award "a recognition of the idea of European unity."
"[This recognition] is an incentive and an obligation at the same time - for me personally, too," Merkel added.
Making the announcement in Oslo, the head of the Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said the European Union's efforts toward "the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe" since the end of World War II had earned the 27-nation bloc the prize.
Jagland highlighted the reconciliation and continued good relationship between Germany and France as a key point in the decision to recognize the EU.
"Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars," he said. "Today, war between Germany and France is unthinkable."
Conditions of democracy placed on countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal before they were allowed to join the EU, and the opportunities for EU membership afforded to Central and Eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall, were also highlighted in the EU's track record.
Speaking during an official visit to Helsinki on Friday, European Committee President Herman van Rompuy said "we are all very proud that the efforts of the EU for keeping the peace in Europe are rewarded."
The committee also illustrated the EU's continued commitment to democracy with the admission of Croatia as a member next year, and the discussion of membership for Turkey, which "has also advanced democracy and human rights in that country."
Observers are saying that the EU can see the prize as a welcome boost, as some members continue to struggle against the sovereign debt crisis that has put significant strain on the bloc's economy and caused unemployment to rise severely in some states.
In connection to the Nobel Prize, Merkel made reference to the eurozone's current financial struggles, saying the euro is "is more than just a currency because it in the end represents the original idea of a peaceful society based on common values."
The Nobel Committee also acknowledged the bloc's difficulties over the euro.
"The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest," it said. "The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights."
Norway is not a member of the EU, with its population having rejected accession at referendum twice, in 1972 and then 1994.
mz/tj (Reuters, DPA, AFP)