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EU Austerity Measures: Why The Nobel Peace Prize Matters

In receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, the leaders of the European Union should not only take a moment to feel justifiable pride in the recognition of the EU’s past accomplishments, but they should also take a moment to reflect on what they’re doing today in the midst of the Eurozone crisis that may undermine that very achievement.

The Nobel Committee gave the award based on the Union’s contributions to peace, human rights and democracy. Since the 1950s the economic, political and cultural integration of Europe has made inter-state war unthinkable. The suggestion that Germany could go to war with France, Britain or Greece would extract from no more than a good laugh from today’s average European. Other dangerous tensions, such as those between Romania and Hungary, are now relegated to the history books; and this too is in large part due to European integration.

[sidebar title="" width="300" align="right"]This piece was co-written by Vivien Schmidt, professor of international relations and political science, and founding director of the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University.[/sidebar]

There is also much to be proud of in the institutional capitals of the EU (Brussels, Strasbourg) with regard to human rights standards. It is hard to imagine that citizens whose basic human rights were curtailed by their domestic courts would have a better deal today if it were not for EU interventions. The fact that the EU’s was able to pull this off across borders is unprecedented and should be acknowledged as such.

But the awarding of the Nobel Prize should also make Europeans pause and reflect on the EU’s increasing failure to defend its high standards during the greatest economic crisis in the union’s history — as a warning that its disregard of the political fallout from its economic policies may be weakening Europe’s peace, human rights and democratic defenses.

What’s particularly worrying is that the EU has handled the economic crisis in ways that have begun to raise darker specters.

People walk in front of flags of European countries outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to promote peace and democracy in Europe, despite being in the midst of its biggest crisis since the bloc was created in the 1950s. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
People walk in front of flags of European countries outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to promote peace and democracy in Europe, despite being in the midst of its biggest crisis since the bloc was created in the 1950s. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The prize should be a reminder that the dangers so recently overcome can reappear.

These are hardly markers of a vibrant democracy and the EU has to contemplate its responsibility in this regard. The Nobel Committee was very much aware of these issues when it made its award, and the prize should be a reminder that the dangers so recently overcome can reappear. EU leaders need to take a page from the past, with another leap of the imagination, beyond the economics of austerity to a new politics of solidarity, backstopped by deeper political as well as economic integration.

The list of Nobel awards has produced many disappointments. Let’s hope that the EU will take this moment as an invitation to be the engine of more democracy and the guarantor of the peace not only between states, but within them as well.

This program aired on October 18, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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