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Mired in crisis, the EU wins Nobel Peace Prize

Flags of European countries wave Friday outside the European Parliament in Brussels. The choice of the EU for the peace prize delighted, puzzled and infuriated Europeans.

Associated Press

Flags of European countries wave Friday outside the European Parliament in Brussels. The choice of the EU for the peace prize delighted, puzzled and infuriated Europeans.

PARIS — By naming the European Union the recipient of the 2012 peace prize on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made an unconventional choice that celebrated the bloc's postwar integration even as a financial crisis and political infighting threaten to tear it apart.

Members of the Nobel Committee lauded six decades of reconciliation among enemies who fought Europe's bloodiest wars while simultaneously warning against the hazards of the present. The decision sounded at times like a plea to support the endangered institution at a difficult hour.

"We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes," said Thorbjorn Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the panel awarding the prize. "There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization."

Yet on the very day that the award was announced in Oslo, leading European policymakers again publicly bickered over how to deal with Greece's bailout. Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, rejected calls from the French head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, to give Greece more time to make additional spending cuts to rein in deficits.

The intractable debt troubles in Greece have been at the heart of the financial crisis that has gone on for years and has taken a tremendous toll on Europe's economy, breeding ill will between the suffering periphery and officials in Germany, who have called for painful austerity as the price of continued German support for the rising debt.

"The leader of the EU is Germany, which is in an economic war with southern Europe," said Stavros Polychronopoulos, 60, a retired lawyer in Athens. "I consider this war equal to a real war. They don't help peace."

In light of the recent upheaval, the Nobel announcement was greeted with surprise, perplexity and, from some corners, mockery. "The Nobel Committee is a little late for an April Fool's joke," said Martin Callanan, a British member of the European Parliament and the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. "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."

Before making its choice, the Norwegian panel — located in an oil-rich kingdom whose population of 5 million has steadfastly resisted membership of the 27-nation European Union — weighed 231 nominations.

The peace prize is associated with diplomats or heads of state who have ended wars, or individuals like Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu fighting poverty or injustice. Last year's peace prize was shared by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; a Liberian antiwar activist, Leymah Gbowee; and Tawakkol Karman, a democracy activist in Yemen. The 2010 peace prize winner was Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights campaigner.

But as it has in the past, notably in giving the 2009 peace prize to President Barack Obama less than a year after he took office, the selection by the highly politicized committee sometimes reflects hope as much as achievement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the award "an inducement and an obligation at the same time."

As for the award itself, it was unsure Friday where the $1.2 million prize would go.

BBC business correspondent Robert Peston figured that if the 500 million people in the EU shared, it would work out to about a quarter-cent per person.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Mired in crisis, the EU wins Nobel Peace Prize 10/12/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 11:15pm]
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