The European Union has won the Nobel Peace Prize amidst the hardest year it has faced since its inception. The E.U. founders certainly had no idea what they were building when they did—the goal was simply to control German coal and steel so that Germany could never rebuild its war machine—and the ensuing peace among member nations that is now over 60 years old was not something anyone would have bet on at the time. Nor would anyone have imagined that E.U. membership would later mean abolition of the death penalty, but it has.
I detest the austerity policy in place now during the economic crisis, but the E.U. is more than that, just as the U.S. is more than Wall Street. The Euro Generation that emerged 15 years ago doesn’t identify with austerity but with European peace, universal healthcare, the welfare state, religion out of politics, and the determination to simultaneously open borders and promote multi-lingualism while protecting minority languages and cultures. To them, nationalism is pointless at best and cataclysmic at worst.
Of course, bureaucracies are never as pretty as the ideals behind them. And some of the criticism this week has been fair. (Der Spiegel claims that awarding former E.U. leaders such as Jacques Delors would have more effectively spotlighted the ideals of the European peace project.) A lot of the criticism has been ridiculous, if not offensive. (Many on the far left are echoing the sentiments of critics on the far right, comparing police brutality in Greece and Spain to World War II. Not helpful.) The debate should keep going, but I’m personally taking the moment to remember how I felt 13 years ago when I read Eddie Izzard campaigning against Europhobia in the UK:
“I believe that we are on to something really good here, if it means that we stop rolling tanks across one another’s borders and stop killing each other. There are 800 million of us Europeans and we’ve been killing each other for centuries.”