The European Union’s three presidents collected the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in recognition of six decades of work promoting “peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights”.
Prime Minister David Cameron stayed away – one of six EU leaders to decide not to attend. But his deputy Nick Clegg was there to represent the UK in the splendour of the Nobel Institute in Oslo.
Attendees heard Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland praise the EU’s role in transforming a European “continent of war” into a “continent of peace”.
He said: “That should not be taken for granted. We have to struggle for it every day”.
Mr Jagland emphasised that the same prize had been awarded in the 1920s to the foreign ministers of France and Germany marking post-First World War reconciliation. Then in the 1930s the continent had degenerated into conflict and war once more.
But he said now was the time to celebrate prolonged peace, and welcome the French and German leaders sitting side by side in Oslo.
However, the announcement of the peace award in October caused surprise and controversy in the midst of one of the EU’s worst crises and at a time of deep – albeit non-violent – rifts between major member states.
Yesterday’s ceremony came in a week of yet another EU summit to try to resolve the continuing euro crisis, which UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage claims risks “engendering violence, poverty and despair across Europe”.
But European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: “This is an award for the European project – for the people and the institutions – that day after day, for the last 60 years, have built a new Europe. We will honour this prize and we will preserve what has been achieved. It is in the common interest of our citizens. And it will allow Europe to contribute in shaping that ‘better organised world’ in line with the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law that we cherish and believe in.
“The last 60 years have shown that Europe can unite in peace. Over the next 60 years, Europe must lead the global quest for peace.”
Receiving the award alongside him were the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.
The presentation of yesterday’s award required all the diplomacy the EU could muster – it took weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions in Brussels to agree which of the EU presidents should perform what function at the Oslo ceremony. In the end it was agreed that only two of the three would speak – Mr Barroso and Mr Van Rompuy.
The third, Mr Schulz, who made clear during negotiations that he represented the only democratically-elected EU institution, received the peace medal on behalf of all three. An early additional plan was for EU citizens to be represented by 27 Second World War veterans, plus one young child from each of the 27 EU member states.
In the end it was decided to send just four children – selected via a competition – to represent the EU’s post-war generations The Nobel Prize money – about £755,000 – is to go to a children’s charity.
Mr Van Rompuy told the Nobel ceremony audience: “This day reminds people across Europe and the world of the Union’s fundamental purpose: to further the fraternity between European nations, now and in the future.”