Speaking under the Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s allegoric frescoes of good and bad government, Thorbjørn Jagland, chair of the Nobel prize committee, said that Europe is surely not perfect, but that it has the power to solve ‘our problems together’.
“We need institutions to ensure that both nation-states and individuals exercise compromise, self-control and moderation,” he said, adding that these are the principal needs in a world full of the dangers of the 21st century.
Collecting the prize in Oslo, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, stressed the need for further fraternity between European nations in a time of uncertainty.
The name of Jean Monnet, as founding father of the European Union, was quoted several times and his words remained floating in the air during the ceremony: “Nothing can be achieved without people, but nothing becomes permanent without institutions.”
The Union has perfected the art of compromise, conceded Van Rompuy. “No drama of victory or defeat, but ensuring all countries emerge victorious from talks. For this, boring politics is a small price to pay,” he added.
But peace is not enough. “We must stand together. We have collective responsibility. Without this European cooperation, the result might easily have been new protectionism, new nationalism, with the risk that the ground gained would be lost,” Jagland said.
Referring obliquely to the financial crisis that is affecting innocent people, the Nobel committee chair underscored the Union’s political set up, and stressed it must be consolidated.
EU leaders are meeting this week to discuss proposals for deepening integration and adopting a time-bound roadmap for the Economic and Monetary Union.
Inking a fresh agreement will be tough as divisions persist on whether to allow a two-tier Europe with the eurozone countries at its core.
Several EU countries, especially those outside the single currency, have warned against a division between the "ins" and "outs", with second-class members alienated from the decision-making process.
Peace is not mere absence of war
Although the Nobel prize is a mere recognition of what was achieved in the past decades to restore peace in Europe, the EU cannot stand still: it must safeguard what it has gained and move forward, the Norwegian host said.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso pushed the idea of peace further, quoting Baruch Spinoza: "Peace is not mere absence of war, it is a virtue.”
Lashing out at those taking peace for granted and trying to reverse the integration process, Barroso said that there can only be peace only if people are confident, at ease with their political system, reassured that their basic rights are respected.
Critics, especially in the UK, say the award is inappropriate. They point out that the eurozone crisis has exposed deep divisions in the 27-nation bloc.
Most of Europe's national leaders were at the event, but not the UK's David Cameron, who was represented by the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.
Cameron’s Conservative Party is debating a referendum that could prompt Britain’s exit from the EU.
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox for the Conservatives said today that he hoped "back to a common market" would be the Tories' slogan at the next election.
"To be frank, if the choice is between the current trajectory towards ever closer union and leaving, then I would choose to leave, albeit reluctantly,” Fox added.
The Union was built on reconciliation. “In politics as in life, reconciliation is the most difficult thing,” Van Rompuy told the gathering. “It goes beyond forgiving and forgetting, or simply turning the page.”
An eye to the Balkans
If some want to leave, others should be allowed to join, Jagland said, adding the EU was seeking to lay down the foundations for peace in the Balkans.
Slovenia joined the EU in 2004, with Croatia due to follow in 2013. Montenegro has opened membership negotiations, and Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have been given candidate status.
“The Balkans were and are a complicated region,” Jagland added, noting that unresolved conflicts remain.
The status of Kosovo has still not been settled. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state that has struggled to function properly because of the veto exercised by the three political groups against each other.
“The paramount solution is to extend the process of integration that has applied in the rest of Europe,” the Norwegian host added.