An answer to the International Peace Bureau policy concerning the EU Nobel Prize award

The EU is more than the sum of its member States

, by Claire Darme, as approved by David Goesmann and Renaud Delpech

The EU is more than the sum of its member States

Earlier this month, the International Peace Bureau (IPB) in Geneve issued an open-letter to the Nobel committee asking for the money of the Nobel Peace Prize not to be given to the European Union, arguing this award was illegal. After reading carefully the IPB’s argumentation , we have decided to take a stance against the IPB’s position, which we consider to reflect either at best a deep lack of knowledge of what the EU is, does, and how it functions, or at worst a worrying bad faith in its judgement of the EU’s achievements. Rather than discussing the points one by one, we will treat them according to their themes, namely the nature of the EU, the EU internal affairs and the EU external action.

On the points concerning the nature of the EU (IPB’s introductive and conclusive points)

The question of ‘What is Europe’ only appears at the very end of the IPB’s document. However they may have been well-advised to start with this work of definition before going any further, since the document is blurring the limit between Europe, the EU and European States.

In the introductory part of its statement, the IPB argues one cannot clearly identify the real recipient of the Nobel Price since the EU is a ‘bloc of States’. Nonetheless, it has now been three years since the EU acquired a legal personality of its own through the Lisbon Treaty (article 47 TFUE). This is a legal albeit fundamental nuance which the IPB did not grasp. It means the EU is more than the sum of its Member States, and shall be considered in a supranational perspective, rather than a sole intergovernmental one. The EU is not a ‘zone’, military or not, it is a construction. For this reason, it is possible to grant the European Union as such with a Nobel Peace Prize, not meaning rewarding any of its Member States in particular. Later on, in its conclusive part, the IPB asks: ‘is peacemaking the role of states or peoples?’ This difficulty to size the existence of another level of acting is for a great part responsible for the IPB’s failure to see peacemaking is not limited to either States or Peoples. International organisations such as the EU or the UN (Nobel Peace Prize 2001, among others ) can also be an actor in peace-making. This lack of understanding in the distinction between the European Union and its Member States is a key element of the weakness of the IPB’s argumentation, though not the only one.

On the point concerning the internal affairs of the EU (‘Education for Peace’, ‘Nuclear Weapons’ and ‘Military Spending’, ‘Democracy’ and ‘The victory over fascism’ IPB’s points)

Since the IPB did not grasp the difference between the EU and its Member States, it is not surprising the next point we need to deal with is the allocation of competences within the European Union. Indeed, when discussing education, nuclear weapons or military spending, the IPB reproaches the EU with not intervening any further in those fields. Since the EU is not a dictatorship or totalitarian construction, but preserves the Member States’ own tradition and culture, it cannot act in every area and without any control. This is what is called the ‘allocation of competences’ between the EU and its Member States within three categories: exclusive competences of the EU, shared competences between the EU and the Member State, and competences of support or coordination – implying a very low competence for the EU with no decision power.

Education is a supporting competence of the EU, meaning it cannot make any decision in this field and can only assist Member States if they want to coordinate on a specific programme. Therefore, it is already doing a lot by promoting intercultural encountering and a better mutual understanding via exchange schemes such as Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus or Leonardo. Building peace is not only a question of making presentations in class as the IPB seems to be suggesting; it is also about making conflicts less likely to occur. Making young generations share their own cultural references and understanding is one of the EU’s greatest achievements, despite the fact the EU does not even have a decision making competence in the field of education.

Concerning nuclear weapons, the IPB reproaches the EU with including two nuclear States within its member States. Only two; out of 27, and soon 28. But this is not our point. The EU has been promoting disarmament talks since the very existence of a European Security and Defense Policy back in 2003 . Plus, both the UK and France are re-evaluating the level of their nuclear capacity. France has already reduced the number of its nuclear weapons , and the UK is exploring the possible alternatives to its Trident program. Now as far as military spending are concerned, putting the data in a time-line perspective shows that not only most of the European countries barely meet the NATO (not European!) criterion of 2% of military spending , but those spending have known a decreasing trend in several member States of the EU . Not to consider the EU played a role in this containment of the spreading of nuclear capacity within its member States, or in the reduction of their military spending by offering them more stability on the international scene and diminishing the likeliness of conflicts among its member States is nothing but bad faith.

Now concerning the last points of this part, namely ‘The victory over fascism’ and ‘Democracy’. The IPB underestimates the importance of the European enlargement process in stabilising the region after the fall of successive dictatorships (as in Spain, Portugal, Greece and final CEECs). The EU was not only a prospect for the elites of those countries; especially in central and Eastern Europe, it also offered them a way to reconstruct in a democratic way their internal structure after the fall of a corrupted and totalitarian regime. The adoption of the acquis communautaire, institutionalized element of the enlargement process since 1993, means the adoption of political, judiciary and legislative structures in a way respecting subsidiarity and democracy. The importance of Human Rights within the acquis has been constantly increasing during the last two decades . At the same time as the EU was providing those countries with the financial capacity to re-build, this process therefore helped avoiding a hazardous institutional gap within the European area. This is more than winning over fascism. This is winning over post-fascism political instability.

Further on, the IPB reproaches the absence of mentioning of the European Parliament in the Committee decision. Martin Schulz, current president of the European Parliament, will be present to receive the Prize in December. It seems the IPB spoke too soon.

On the points concerning the external action of the EU (‘Warmaking’, ‘Arms trading’ and ‘Peace keeping’ IPB’s points)

Now that we have shown the IPB got it wrong on every single point dealing with both the nature of the EU and its internal affairs, we will show it is also the case when discussing the external influence of the EU.

The document of the IPB states that the ‘The EU - sometimes collectively and sometimes separately - has been involved in several of the bloodiest conflicts of our time’. This sentence is a total non-sense due to the point we explained there above: the actions of EU member States cannot be considered as the action of the EU as such, unless a European resolution on the topic was issued by the European institutions. Plus, if the IPB seems to give a great importance to a supposed ‘involvement of ’Europe’ in these war-making activities’, there is no word about the EU commitment to ‘soft power’ in term of international relations and conflict resolution.

Moreover, when discussing arms trading, one may be willing to notice the EU has been working on framing legislation to control the exportation of weapons from its member States, even though the latest keep a possibility to run additional policies . Furthermore, the EU has been keen on supporting the establishment of the Arms Trade Treaty wanted by the UN, giving political backing to its negotiation and foreseen implementation . Therefore, even though one may consider the EU should work harder on arms trading, we cannot simply forget to mention its commitment to regulate this activity.

Finally, we find it to be paradoxical that the IPB reproaches the EU with not having a stronger influence in peace keeping operations. The EU is involved in peace keeping, but also State building, in many places in the world . The reason it cannot, as reproached by the IPB, compete with the UN in that field is precisely because the EU does not have a strong army of its own, and its peace-keeping force capacity is not comparable to the one of the Blue Helmets.

The IPB’s document is lacking knowledge and analytical skills of what the European Union really is. Unfortunately, it is easier to make un-sourced statements than to take a step back and work on understanding the complex albeit not evil European construction. It has been almost 70 years since the end of World War two, and since then the members of the European construction have not been in war against one another. This has not happen in centuries, and European conflicts used to induce worldwide despair not so long ago. In that sense, the European construction indeed deserves to be rewarded, at least for preventing any further catastrophe to take place among its members. As Jean Monnet used to put it, “We shall better argue around a table than on battlefields”.

Your comments

  • On 10 December 2012 at 19:48, by Charles_M Replying to: The EU is more than the sum of its member States

    The standing of the Nobel peace prize was damaged beyond salvation by this award to the EU. 27 countries, all arms manufacturers and exporters. 27 countries, mostly driven by economic expediency and little else. I have no problem with either fact, but to suggest its in the name of peace is a joke.

  • On 11 December 2012 at 18:35, by KPM Replying to: The EU is more than the sum of its member States

    @Charles_M : Then I believe one should have never awarded Arafat and Rabin?

    Plus, it would help if you actually read the article, where you would have learnt that none of the 27 countries are awarded, but only the European Union itself, which is a fundamentally different organisation, as different of its member states as the UN is.

    The UN has been awarded the Nobel prize ten times, and still its member states are much bigger arms dealers than EU members. I therefore tend to believe it’s your own credibility that has been damaged beyond salvation by this unfortunate and ridiculous comment of yours.

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