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EU Nobel Peace Prize award divisive
The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for the European Union has predictably deepened the divide between europhiles and europhobes.
The irony of the honour being bestowed in the midst of one of the EU's worst crises and at a time of deep rifts between major member states was not lost on anyone, including the EU's biggest supporters.
Cynics said the award is less about celebrating the past legacy of peace but more about delivering positive public relations when the EU needs it most.
The Norwegian committee that awards the prize said the EU would be its next recipient in recognition of its six decades of contributions "to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe".
Its citation focused on the EU's historical role in the aftermath of the Second World War but many observers are astonished by the decision, given the deep divisions that have emerged in response to the economic crisis of recent years.
The leader of Britain's Conservative Euro MPs Martin Callanan said the announcement came "a little late for an April fools joke". He said: "Twenty years ago this prize would have been sycophantic but maybe more justified. Today it is downright out of touch. Presumably this prize is for the peace and harmony on the streets of Athens and Madrid. The EU's policies have exacerbated the fallout of the financial crisis and led to social unrest that we haven't seen for a generation."
The decision came in the week when German chancellor Angela Merkel faced Nazi salutes from angry Greek demonstrators when she visited strife-torn Athens to reject claims that the country was, economically at least, under German control once again. And the news reminded everyone that the finance minister of Poland warned MEPs during a European Parliament debate last year that the economic and political crises could lead to war within 10 years.
A joint statement from the EU's two institutional figureheads called the award a "tremendous honour".
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council president Herman van Rompuy declared: "This prize is the strongest possible recognition of the deep political motives behind our Union: the unique effort by ever more European states to overcome war and divisions and to jointly shape a continent of peace and prosperity. It is a prize not just for the project and the institutions embodying a common interest, but for the 500 million citizens living in our Union."
Sir Graham Watson, leader of the European Liberal Democrats and MEP for the South West, said the award was "an opportunity to remind ourselves of the reasons why we are a member of the EU: to never see a return to the dark days of nationalism that led to the slaughter on the fields of northern Europe and to the barbaric scenes of the Holocaust. Peace and prosperity - these are the ideals that underpin the EU".