Prizes for Barroso and Van Rompuy – what for?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Ewald König, editor-in-chief & publisher EURACTIV Germany

Ewald König, editor-in-chief & publisher EURACTIV Germany

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso received the Carlos V Europe Prize in Spain last week, while European Council President Herman Van Rompuy received the International Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, Germany. Organisations should temporarily suspend prize-giving, argues Ewald König, saying it is high time to expose celebrity award inflation.

Ewald König is editor in chief and publisher for EURACTIV Germany. The original German-language version of this opinion piece was published on

Once meaningful European awards like the Aachen Charlemagne Prize or the Carlos V Prize from Spain used to be given to individuals for their life’s work, for their courage and for exceptional service rendered to Europe.

But today, it seems one can also receive a prize simply by going to work in Brussels and holding an office. An office which is already well-paid. In his post as president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy is paid a higher salary than US President Barack Obama, while many still wonder what kind of work the EU top-job actually entails.

When the Aachen Charlemagne Prize was first launched, the goal was the following: “The Charlemagne Prize acts in and upon the future; at the same time, it confers an obligation, but an obligation of the highest ethical content.”

This time however the prize has nothing to do with the future. A whole generation of European officials in Brussels – including Barroso, Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, the foreign affairs chief – will soon be stepping down. Forget the part about the future.

To honour Van Rompuy as an individual “with significant merits as a mediator and consensus builder,” is a thin justification for the once-venerated Charlemagne Prize. This time, it was apparently difficult for the Charlemagne Prize Board to find someone who was not only a calm, obedient and dependable worker, but rather one who was worthy of being honoured for his life’s work, and for his ambitious, visionary, brave, convincing and courageous European dedication.

Van Rompuy still has a while to wait before he can receive the honourable prize in the coronation chamber of Aachen’s town hall. But in fact, the date of the occasion is quite interesting. It is 29 May, 2014.

At that time the votes for the European elections (depending on the country between 22 and 25 May) will have just been counted. The outcome could ruin the ceremony. In that sense, it will be exciting to see how laudators and prize winners react.

Last Thursday it was Barroso’s turn: In the 600 year-old Hieronymite Monastery in western Spain, just on the border with his native Portugal, Barroso accepted the European Carlos V Prize from the hands of Spanish prince Felipe.

Barroso is familiar with the location, which Emperor Charles V chose as a last place of reflection. The Commission president was a laudator himself when he thanked prize winner Javier Solana “for his contribution to European integration” as a person had a lasting effect on the global political role of the EU and played an important role in determining its strategic goals.

First laudator, then prize winner himself: better to keep things tight-knit. And what did Barroso have to say this time? That the EU is not responsible for the economic crisis: “Europe is not the problem, Europe is a part of the solution.” How often has he already said that?

Not to be misunderstood: The criticism here is not directed at the honoured persons themselves. It is directed at the organisations behind inflated award-giving. Maybe they should take a break from handing out prizes for a while.

Otherwise, in the future, someone selected to receive the prize may decline to accept because of its insignificance.

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