In a flurry of hyperbole, EU leaders accepted the institution’s Nobel Peace Prize today for “the advance of peace and reconciliation” amidst a renewed gnashing of teeth over one of the most controversial awardings in the Committee’s history – matched perhaps only by the designation of Barack Obama as recipient less than a year into his first term as US president. One by one, Brussels eurocrats regaled the assembled guests with stories of war and eventual peace in Europe and the strident words from the EU’s founding fathers Monnet and Adenauer which helped set the first round of treaties in motion. Herman van Rompuy made a characteristic Freudian slip in lauding the work of “Europe’s Founders” – a prescient reminder that Europhiles have taken the art of conflating our long-existent geographic reality with a political edifice artificially constructed to new heights. But it is this focus on the past that should illustrate the grievous error in judgement on the part of the Nobel committee, chaired ironically by the man who led Norway’s last failed drive for EU membership, Thorbjørn Jagland.
At some point in time, the EU probably deserved recognition for some of its “achievements”. Not for what it set out to achieve per se, but for some of its more reactive measures and moments. It is genuinely awe-inspiring to see how, little more than a decade on from the ravages of conflict in the Balkans, how much of a transformation the countries of South-Eastern Europe have undergone, and the EU has had more than steady hand in that rebuilding. For these still-developing nation-states, joining a club like the EU is the ultimate stamp to mark their rather speedy transition from embryonic to mature democracies. Though at times, the rush to satisfy all the tickmarks Brussels requires for entry to the club means some of these countries’ developments ring a bit hollow in substance even while gleaming on the surface. The EU as an expediting force in institution-building, sometimes before the country playing host to this non-organically generated architecture may be ready to digest it properly, is not always a force for good.