For many, the news from Oslo that the European Union had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 came as a surprise. Some believed it odd that this recognition was awarded at a time when social tensions are on the rise and when the EU is mired in an economic crisis.
The uncertainty we are living through means real hardship for many of European citizens. Nearly a quarter of them are on or below the poverty line. Along with their jobs, their pensions and their savings, some have also lost confidence in the European project.
A few extremists even abuse current economic woes to pander populist messages. But our commitment to peace should not be undermined by populism or self-derision.
I see the award as a timely reminder of what the European Union stands for and the fundamental principle it was built around – transforming a war torn continent into a union of democracies. For those that rebuilt Europe from the rubble of war, it is still a miracle that the wounds of conflict could be overcome to give former enemies a common future.
Since then, the EU has offered membership to country after country, bolstering their democracies, including them in the world’s largest internal market of more than 500 millions citizens and engaged in economic transfers to help the poorest regions in Europe. Today the EU continues to exude its drawing power and serves as a stabilising force beyond its borders.
For all these achievements there is no room for complacency. With their prestigious recognition, the Nobel committee also sent a clear message to the EU: it must protect a Union built over six decades spent in the pursuit of peace from disintegration and resurgent nationalisms. At a time when some like to portray the EU as “flawed”, the Nobel peace prize is a recognition that resonates with all generations.
The many congratulations that have been received from leaders and individual citizens around the globe are also a reminder that – despite the recent gloom surrounding the EU – the commitment to peace never goes out of fashion.
Rather than rest on our laurels, we should take the award as a boost to step up our engagement for lasting peace and prosperity. We need to make Europe’s mission for peace a forward-looking one with the help of a whole new chapter in the EU’s external relations through – the European External Action Service.
The Nobel Peace Prize puts new wind in our sails to reach out and help those who do not enjoy the same freedoms as we do and whose lives might be threatened by war, deprivation or hunger.
The Nobel Peace Prize is not about the past. It is also about the future. The prize will inject new life into the EU peace message. The world and not least young people in Europe and elsewhere will be reminded of what makes Europe special. Even if European youth take peace for granted at home, they know that peace is a dream in other parts of the world.
We need to shout out loud that young people yearning for peace can count on the EU. If you want to promote rights for and children and women, democracy, rule of law, fight against racism, discrimination and torture the EU will help.
From Afghanistan to Somalia, the EU will continue alone or with like-minded partners to champion human rights around the globe. To do so, it deploys all of its capacities, its expertise in crisis prevention and resolution, the diplomatic skills of its staff on the ground, and development aid to assist those in need.
In the wake of the Arab spring, EU’s approach has been refashioned to promote democracy and prosperity together with EU’s closest neighbours. Think also of the key role EU is playing as peace keeper in places such as the Great Lakes region or in the Indian Ocean fighting piracy.
Europe is also lending its strongest diplomatic efforts in leading negotiations with Iran and, as part of the Quartet, to advance peace in the Middle East.
One of the wonderful aspects of an EU ambassador’s job is to see how the EU’s success in achieving peace amongst warring nations continues to be an inspiration to others to overcome sectarian strife and deeply ingrained hatred. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that people around the globe can count on the EU to give them a helping hand.
Across the Caribbean I am happy that our support to local authorities in fields such as education, health, security advances these fundamental human rights. In some countries such as Barbados the EU delegation is also directly supporting non-state actors in advocacy projects.
I hope that the ability to support others in their struggle for democracy and freedom will also be a source of inspiration to those who have lost faith in our project. That it will encourage them to continue to work together so that many more generations in Europe and beyond can enjoy what we cherish every day: peace, democracy and the guarantee of fundamental freedoms.
* Mikael Barfod, Ambassador, Head of European Union Delegation to Barbados and Eastern Caribbean.