Nobel Committee to EU: Turkey very important for world peace

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Barroso, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz (L-R) are pictured with the Nobel diploma on the podium in Oslo. (Photo: Reuters)

December 10, 2012, Monday/ 17:08:00

The Nobel Committee told the European Union that Turkey is “very important” for world peace in a statement it made at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, held in Oslo and attended by all EU leaders with the exception of British PM David Cameron.

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland made it clear to the EU leaders that the accession process had advanced significantly the reform process in Turkey.

The message was very to the point as the accession talks with Turkey have been stalled due to objections from Greek Cypriots and France. Not a single chapter has been opened with Turkey in last five term presidencies, i.e., two-and-a-half years. Almost half of the 35 negotiating chapters in total have been frozen.

Jagland, who is also the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, stressed that the aim of EU membership had provided Turkey a guideline for reform. Stressing that reforms have strengthened Turkey's democracy, Jagland said success in the process was very important for both the Middle East and the world as a whole. “After the new government, headed by the [Justice and Development Party] AKP, won a clear parliamentary majority, the aim of EU membership provided a guideline for the process of reform in Turkey. There can be no doubt that this has contributed to strengthening the development of democracy there. This benefits Europe, but success in this respect is also important to developments in the Middle East, and therefore also for world peace,” said Jagland.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and 24 EU leaders were all present at the ceremony, together with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

Turkey has been in accession talks with the EU, but the process has come to a standstill over disputes regarding the future of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and amid reluctance among EU member states to let in the candidate country.

The EU received the prize from the Norwegian committee which looked beyond Europe's current malaise to recognize its decades of stability and democracy after the horrors of two world wars. Fittingly for an institution with no single leader, the EU sent three of its presidents to the Oslo ceremony for the 2012 prize, which critics, including former Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, say is undeserved.

"Sixty years of peace. It's the first time that this has happened in the long history of Europe," Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, told Reuters before the ceremony.

"The facts prove that the EU is a peacekeeping instrument of the first order," said Van Rompuy, who will collect the prize along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament.

Europe is suffering feeble economic growth or outright recession, soaring unemployment and a number of its member states are unable to pay their debts. It has been called the worst economic crisis since World War Two.

The economic pain has provoked social unrest in a number of member states, notably near-bankrupt Greece. However, the Nobel committee focused on the EU's role in reconciling the disparate, warring corners of the "old continent" -- the overarching success being turning Germany and France from enemies into allies.

From just six countries which agreed to pool their coal and steel production in the 1950s to 27 member states today -- and 28 once Croatia joins next year -- the EU now stretches from Portugal to Romania, Finland to Malta and sets rules and regulations that have an effect on more than 500 million people.

"The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace," the Nobel committee said on Oct. 12 when it announced that the EU had won, an unexpected decision.

"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."

Van Rompuy said the prize was due recognition of what earlier generations had achieved in forging peace. "I was born after the war, I was the first generation in Europe that could live his life without war," Van Rompuy, 65, said in an interview.

Commission President Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal who was part of the struggle to turn his country into a democracy in 1974, echoed those sentiments.

"It's a recognition of what has been achieved over 60 years and at the same time, it's also an encouragement for the future," he told Reuters. "I think the message they give us is that what you have built is something very precious, something that we should treasure, that we should keep."

Despite the warm words of unity and sense of common purpose, the EU and its major institutions were at odds after the announcement was made because they couldn't decide who should accept the award or who specifically was to be honored.

In the end, it was decided that the prize was for all Europeans, to be picked up by the heads of the three main EU institutions. Twenty EU leaders also chose to attend the ceremony, but British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose relationship with Brussels is tense, stayed away.

0.2 euro cents each

Four young Europeans, including a 12-year-old Spanish girl and a 21-year-old woman from Poland, also attended the ceremony after winning competitions, and 20 EU heads of state and government flew in for the high-profile occasion.

The prize money of 930,000 euros ($1.25 million) will be given to projects that help children struggling in war zones, with the recipients to be announced next week. The EU has said it will match the prize money, so that a total of 2 million euros will be given to the selected aid projects.

That decision went some way to silence critics on Twitter and other social media sites who initially joked that if the award was for all Europeans then they should all share the prize money -- which would equal about 0.2 euro cents each.

Commentators on social media haven't been the only critics of the award going to the EU, which for the past three years has been a virtual byword for disorder and indecision because of its failure to get on top of a sovereign debt crisis.

Tutu, a churchman who fought the apartheid system in his native South Africa, said last week that the EU did not deserve the award. On Sunday, around 1,000 members of left-wing and human-rights groups marched through the streets of Oslo in protest, saying the EU was not a rightful beneficiary under the terms Alfred Nobel laid down in his will in 1895.

"Alfred Nobel said that the prize should be given to those who worked for disarmament," said Elsa-Britt Enger, 70, a representative of the organization “Grandmothers for Peace.” "The EU doesn't do that. It is one of the biggest weapons producers in the world," she added.

For many people inside and outside of Europe, it is hard to get beyond the sense of the EU as an organization stumbling from one crisis to another while meddling in member states' sovereignty. Countries such as Britain, which joined in 1973, now find themselves wondering if it was the right decision.

In their acceptance speech on Monday, Van Rompuy and Barroso will be hoping to overturn those impressions by invoking the despair and misery produced by World War Two and emphasizing what Europe and its institutions have done in the decades since to prevent trading partners going to war with each other.

"(This prize) is not only rewarding past achievements, it is also an encouragement to go further and to work further on deepening the EU," Van Rompuy said.  "The answer is more Europe and more integration."

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