Congratulations to the European Union for winning the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. But is it deserved?
And so, the European Union has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace prize for transforming from a “continent of war to a continent of peace”. The $1.2 million paycheck would certainly be welcomed by Brussels in wake of the ongoing Eurozone crisis, but according to some, there’s more to the EU than just economic and monetary union.
Well, kind of. For decades the EU has waxed lyrical about former foes with centuries of conflict behind them coming together for the grand European peacetime program. And it seems, the foreign policies of the EU have been left behind while the economic and monetary union grew bigger and bigger, which is why there has been some confusion over the EU’s latest accolade.
It is easy to look at the EU as being a purely economic body due to recent events as well as its beginnings as an economic community rather than a political one. However, the EU does have foreign policies, and they are grounded in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). From the outset the foreign policies of the EU were neglected in favour of economic integration. While the economic and monetary side of things constantly expanded and developed, foreign policy was something that was pushed to the wayside.
The CFSP was enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty (1993), which is the treaty that created the Eurozone. Before the CFSP, the EU attempted to co-ordinate foreign policies of its member states through the European Political Co-operation (EPC) in 1970. The goal of the EPC was to provide a common framework for multilateral for multilateral diplomacy at European level and a chance for member states to be provided with coherent guidelines for foreign policy co-ordination.
The EPC was created as a separate initiative to the EPC after two decades of failed attempts by member states to create a coherent and unified stance on foreign policies. From the beginning of its inception, the foreign policy making mechanisms of the EU did not grow and develop as organically as its single market. While the EPC contained a series of mechanisms through which national foreign policies could be co-ordinated, like a lot of EU legislation, it did not contain any legally binding obligations.
The institutional nature of the EPC hindered any real response to conflicts of the 1970s such as the Arab-Israeli War (1973), Islamic Revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The EPC was criticised for taking a weak stances on these conflicts, however, the EPC began to demonstrate a commitment to soft power that would be carried through to the present day.
The Yugoslav Wars further exposed this weakness when the EU had to rely on the US to contain the bloodshed within the continent. This resulted in a greater push towards strengthening the foreign policy goals of the EU and resulted in the creation of the CFSP. Despite its weaknesses, the foreign policy of the EU maintained a somewhat consistent commitment to soft power. The EPC, and later the CFSP, participated in over 28 peacekeeping and conflict resolution exercises in war-torn places such as Kosovo, the Congo, Somalia and the Gaza Strip. The EU is the world’s leading provider of development aid and trade with Brussels donating 86 billion Euros in 2009.
Despite this, the CFSP was unable to prevent divisions between member states over the Iraq War, and some view the role played by the EU in international conflicts as being lacklustre despite wanting to play the “good interventionist”. And one could argue it would be difficult to consistently produce a coherent and collective response to foreign policy from twenty-seven member states, each their own approaches to international relations and foreign policy making.
So why was the EU awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? A less cynical suggestion would be that rather than being awarded the prize for its attempts at foreign policy, perhaps this is recognition of how an economic and monetary union helped unite the continent after centuries of war.
Perhaps as the Guardian suggested, we should not necessarily mistake a currency for a continent. The Eurozone crisis may have evoked descriptions of a financial “war” between member shapes and battlelines drawn up between Northern and Southern Europe, but it is sobering to reflect on why the EU was initially created.
It is not cynical to suggest that the motives behind the creation of the EU were not entirely idealistic, nor is it cynical to suggest that perhaps this is a prize for good intentions rather than action. And the Eurozone crisis cannot be completely ignored; it shows that while it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the good work of the EU, it is still a long time yet before the grand European peacetime project is perfect.