October 27, 2012
it was announced that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would be given to the
European Union, I was thrilled.
were others who were less excited, even skeptical and cynical.
all, these doubters said, why honor the EU when it is enveloped in such immense
questioned why, if the Norwegian committee was so enamored by the European
Union, is it that Norway has consistently rejected joining, preferring to go
its own way unencumbered by a Brussels-based bureaucracy?
there were those who noted it could have been still worse – the EU might have
received the Nobel Prize for Economics instead!
the award committee took a longer view, and so do I. It dates back more than 60
years to the period just after the Second World War.
1946, Winston Churchill, in a speech in Zurich, spoke of the need to “recreate
the European family” and allow it to “dwell in peace, in safety and in
freedom.” “The first step,” he proposed, “must be a partnership between France
up the theme, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman and his key aide, Jean
Monnet, declared: “The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the
elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany.”
thus the process of European integration began, recognizing that forging
economic interdependence, first through coal and steel, then broadening the
agenda, would help buttress the political evolution from war to peace.
visionary effort, doubted by some from the start, has achieved remarkable
is a reminder of two elements of political leadership so necessary at any stage
in history – the ability to look beyond the issues du
visualize a brighter tomorrow, and the capacity to turn an idea into reality.
the three main accomplishments of the EU to date.
the goal of Churchill, Schuman and Monnet has been achieved. War between France
and Germany is unthinkable, against the backdrop of three devastating conflicts
between 1870 and 1945. Indeed, the border between the two, once defined by the
French-built Maginot Line to try to protect against German
invasion, is wide open and unpatrolled.
Greece, Portugal and Spain shed their authoritarian regimes and, lured by the
appeal of European integration and its benefits joined the union, further
entrenching democracy and peace in an expanding zone.
third, ten post-communist societies, from the Baltic states in the north to
Bulgaria in the south, moved as quickly as they could to anchor themselves in
the EU, helping to create a 27-nation region where citizens no longer fear war
or fight endlessly over such once disputed territories as Alsace-Lorraine and
is a fourth prospect that looms just ahead – an end to the centuries-old
conflicts that made the Balkans synonymous with irreconcilable differences.
Croatia will join the EU next year, and Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro
and Serbia are future prospects. But, for instance, Macedonia knows that it
will not enter unless it resolves its differences with EU members Bulgaria and
Greece, just as Turkey has no chance unless, at a minimum, it finds an
acceptable solution with EU member Cyprus to the island nation’s current
I happen to believe that the Nobel Prize could not have been better timed. It
is a necessary reminder of what the EU is really all about.A continent once ravaged by one war after
another, and whose soil has been soaked with the blood of countless millions
who were killed because of racial theories, religious disputes, territorial
claims, leaders’ egomania, economic and more, no longer loses sleep fearing a
new outbreak of cross-border violence.
the EU is understandably preoccupied today with internal challenges, longer
term, it does have a potentially critical role to play on a fifth frontier –
the Middle East. Specifically, the EU should devote more attention to how it
can help ensure a successful peace process between Israel and the Arab world,
drawing on its own lessons of conflict resolution.
unrealistic or naïve? Perhaps, but no more so than Churchill, Schuman and
Monnet did when they envisioned a different world over 60 years ago.
David Harris is the executive director of the American
Jewish Committee (AJC).