In 2012, the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize for the ‘advancement of peace and reconciliation’ in post-WWII Europe.
In the Award Speech, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Thorbjoern
Jagland emphasized that the EU and its predecessors, such as the European Community of Coal and Steel and the European Economic Community, have for six decades been crucially contributing to advancing peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe. He praised the EU for its historic role in integrating the Old Continent: first during the reconstruction after WW II and then while promoting stability after the fall of the Berlin Wall. ‘The stabilizing role played by the EU helped transform the majority of Europe from the continent of war to one of peace’, read the justification for the Prize.
The Committee pointed to the transformation of post-WW II Europe in the course of the European integration. This is subsequently seen in the reconciliation between two traditional enemies: France and Germany, transition from dictatorship to democracy in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, as well as the opening of the ‘new era in Europe’s history’ with the admission of a number of East-Central European countries after their democratic transformation in 1989. Moreover, reconciliation in the Balkans or the democratic change in Turkey are also motivated by the aspiration of these countries to join the EU.
Two French politicians: Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman are regarded as the ‘founding fathers’ of the European integration. It was them who decided that the European integration would stabilize the continent, while the countries which decided to accept it, would find it helpful in the revival of their economy. On 18 April 1951, the cooperation in two crucial at the time economic areas: coal mining and steel production was signed in Paris by six countries: West Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands.
On 25 March 1957 the same countries signed in Rome documents establishing the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. Both communities together with the European Coal and Steel Community founded in 1951 served as the basis for the future European Union.
In 1967, following the provisions of the Merger Treaty signed two years earlier, certain Community bodies were integrated, thus forming the European Commission and Council. Respective European Union policies were being implemented, mainly the cohesion, agricultural, and trade ones. A major breakthrough took place in 1979 when the first in history direct election to the European Parliament was held.
Parallel to the institutional reform, the Communities admitted further countries. In 1973, the initial ‘six’ were joined by Great Britain, Ireland, and Denmark. In 1981, Greece integrated, followed by Spain and Portugal five years later.
On 7 February 1992 the Western European countries agreed to take an unprecedented step in their integration. Leaders of the 12 Community member states decided to integrate in yet other spheres. Thus the European Union was established and came into force as of 1 November 1993; at the same time foundations were laid for euro, the latter used in non-cash transactions as of 1999.
In 1995, the Schengen Treaty came into force, gradually eliminating border control on the internal borders. That very year the Union admitted Austria, Finland, and Sweden. The 2001 Nice Treaty prepared the Union for the admission in 2004 of 10 new members, predominantly countries of the former Eastern Bloc. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania integrated, with Croatia joining in 2013.
When justifying the decision of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, Jagland reminded that doubts and polemics had accompanied the Prize before and were nothing new, just as there had never been a unanimous approval of the political project that the EU was.