OSLO, Norway — The EU received the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday for promoting peace and human rights in Europe following the devastation of World War II, and the bloc was urged to use that unity in its battle with an economic crisis that is causing suffering for many of its citizens.
About 20 European government leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Premier Mario Monti, attended the ceremony in the capital of Norway, an oil-rich country that has twice rejected joining the European Union.
Not everyone approved the decision to give the prize to the EU, created 60 years ago as Europe was struggling to recover from a war that killed millions of people.
Three Peace Prize laureates — South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina — have demanded that the prize money of $1.2 million not be paid this year. They said the bloc contradicts the values associated with the prize because it relies on military force to ensure security.
Amnesty International said Monday that EU leaders should not "bask in the glow of the prize," warning that xenophobia and intolerance are now on the rise in the continent of 500 million people.
Prize committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland handed out the Nobel diplomas and medals to EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and president of the EU Parliament Martin Schulz before at a ceremony in Oslo's City Hall attended by heads of state, royalty and international dignitaries.
In his awarding speech, Jagland said the EU had been instrumental in turning "a continent of war" into one of peace.
"In this process the European Union has figured most prominently," he told an applauding gathering of several hundred people.
This year's prize comes against a backdrop of protests as the debt crisis for countries using the euro currency triggers tensions within the union, causing soaring unemployment and requiring massive austerity measures.
The EU's institutions, and the member countries, have been criticized for reacting too slowly to the crisis, which has continued for three years. The EU, and the 17 members that use the euro in particular, have struggled over too much government debt that has resulted in the eurozone's economy being mired in recession.
In his speech, Van Rompuy acknowledged the economic crisis is causing "great hardship and putting the political bonds of our union to the test."
But, he said, "while we must keep a sense of proportion — even such tensions don't take us back to the darkness of the past — the test Europe is currently facing is real."