For years, the European Union has been on the list of Nobel Peace Prize candidates. The decision to award the 2012 prize to the bloc is a tribute to the EU's international reconciliation work, says DW's Bernd Riegert.
Bernd Riegert is an editor on DW's Europe desk
Who did the Nobel Prize committee actually call to inform the European Union it won this year's Peace Prize? The European Commission, European Council President Herman van Rompuy or President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz? Europe still does not have a single telephone number. Many politicians outside of Europe do not understand that, but the variety is one of the EU's strengths that were honored by the award.
The supranational group of states, in which sovereign national governments communalize some of their powers, is a unique body. The European Parliament is also unique in that representatives from all 27 member states have a nearly equal ability to influence legislation. Citizens of the EU can move among and live in any of the other member states, and the internal market provides companies with access to a massive market and the opportunities it can offer. And still, national governments take the lead in the Council of the European Union, where a constant conflict exists between national and European interests.
The European Union is a peace project. People who talk and trade with each other do not shoot each other. This truism of international politics from the 1950s was the cornerstone for the foundation of the European Economic Community.
Europeans, initially only Western Europeans, learned the right lessons from the catastrophes of two world wars. That was the view expressed by renowned political scientist and Europe expert Werner Weidenfeld in his book on European integration who said of the EU, "Looking at its centuries of history, this historic achievement cannot be valued highly enough."
The European Union today has 27 member states, and eight more countries, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iceland and Turkey, have taken at least the initial steps to joining the bloc. Historically, Europeans have achieved an enormous feat of integration. After starting with just six founding members in Western and Southern Europe, the bloc currently comprises nearly all European countries. The union has integrated the former military dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece as well as the former communist states of central and eastern Europe. Its current enlargement project aims to include the fragile western Balkans.
Its greatest achievement, however, certainly remains uniting Germany and its former enemies. Who would have thought that Germany would emerge from the ruins of World War II and become one of the most important countries in the European Union? In the current debt crisis, Germany has been forced to take on a leadership role due to its economic strength.
Even as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, the financial and sovereign debt crisis poses one of the most serious predicaments of the European Union's history, according to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. But crisis has been a constant companion for Europeans, and so far the EU has come out of each crisis stronger than before.
Critics often accuse the European Union of being too bureaucratic, too undemocratic and a faceless beast. It is true that the decision-making process can be complicated and sometimes non-transparent. But, most of the time, the laws that are enacted support integration. And those who are unhappy with a decision made by the European Union have a structured way to petition for legal redress. In this regard, the European Court of Justice is a globally unique institution.
It is this decades-long work of the European Union that the Nobel Committee recognized. But who are the actual winners? The four presidents of the EU's institutions, the Council, Parliament, Commission or the Euro Group?
Or is it not all Europeans, all the citizens of the European Union who each are a prize winner? After all, they are the ones who - in the end - had to support integration, reforms, enlargement as well as bear the all costs incurred.
Many acts that our grandparents would never have dreamed possible are today regarded as simple facts of life. Europe is normality. Europe lives despite its differences: diversity in unity. Today, we are all Europeans.