Mother Teresa. Lech Walesa. Desmond Tutu. Mikhail Gorbachev. Herman van Rompuy...? Europe wins the Nobel Peace Prize

The EU was awarded the prize for its role in transforming a European 'continent of war' into a 'continent of peace'

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The Independent Online

The 27-nation European Union has been urged to “move forward” to overcome the financial turmoil threatening its future as three EU leaders accepted the Nobel peace prize at a ceremony in Oslo which paid tribute to the continent’s achievement of lasting peace.

“What this continent has achieved is truly fantastic, from being a continent of war to becoming a continent of peace. In this process the European Union has figured most prominently.  It therefore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee which awards the annual peace prize. But the decision to hand the prestigious prize to the EU at a time when its very existence has seemed under threat as a result of the Eurozone crisis was controversial, including in Norway which is not an EU member and unlikely to join. David Cameron stayed away and decided to send the pro-Europe Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to Oslo. Former peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu has said the EU is unworthy of the award.

“Europe needs to move forward. Safeguard what has been gained. And improve what has been created, enabling us to solve the problems threatening the European community today. This is the only way to solve the problems created by the financial crisis, to everyone’s benefit,” said the pro-EU Mr Jagland, warning against a return to “yesterday’s traps” of nationalism and protectionism.

French President François Hollande and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, were applauded when they stood up together, holding hands. Mr Jagland noted that “the reconciliation between Germany and France is probably the most dramatic example in history to show that war and conflict can be turned so rapidly into peace and cooperation. ”

The prize was accepted on behalf of Europe’s 500 million citizens by EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who stepped onto the platform to applause from the assembled EU leaders and officials at Oslo City Hall. The prize consists of a diploma, a gold medal, and a document confirming the prize money of roughly €1m (£800k). The EU will match the prize money to make a total €2m to be spent on humanitarian projects for children who are the victims of conflict.

In their speeches, the European leaders recognised the difficulties facing the EU. Mr Van Rompuy, a Belgian, said: “It is natural to see a hardening of hearts, the narrowing of interests, even the return of long-forgotten fault-lines and stereotypes,” he said. “The test Europe is currently facing is real.” He also acknowledged in his lecture that “parents struggling to make ends meet, workers recently laid off, students who fear that, however hard they try, they won’t get their first job: when they think about Europe, peace is not the first thing that comes to mind.” The reconciliation achieved by Europe was the motivating factor for the Committee to award the prize to the EU in line with the instructions contained in Alfred Nobel’s will.

Mr Van Rompuy went on to evoke the “golden rule” of Jean Monnet, one of the EU founders, saying that “it’s better to fight around the table than on a battlefield.”

President Barroso said the award “shows that in these difficult times the European Union remains a force of inspiration for countries and people all over the world and that our global community needs a strong European Union,” he said.

Asked by a BBC World interviewer whether the EU would hand back the prize if Greece abandons the euro, Mr Barroso said “No, not at all – because it was awarded for peace.” He also noted that the prize was an “encouragement” to the EU, “and we take that encouragement very seriously.”

Mother Teresa

Devoted her life to helping the poor. In 1950, she established the Missionaries of Charity. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Lech Walesa

The founder of Solidarity, the trade union that helped to bring an end to Soviet rule in Poland, he became the President in 1990.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

One of the most vocal opponents of Apartheid in South Africa, Desmond Tutu became the face of opposition to minority-rule.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Urged by Ronald Reagan to ‘tear down that wall’, he did just that. His actions paved the way for democracy in Eastern Europe.