The European Union was last week awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Previous institutional recipients of the award include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), the United Nations (2001), and the Red Cross (1944). While the announcement was met with pride and applause by many within and without Europe, the Euroskeptics have been equally vocal in their derision of the award, pointing to ongoing social instability in many regions of Europe due in part to the Eurozone economic crisis, and the ongoing existentialist crisis the EU seems to be facing.
Such objections somewhat miss the point of the accolade, which has clearly been granted in reference to a longer-term contextualization of the ‘European project’ – after a century of continental turmoil, the creation of the European Communities in the 1950s, which eventually led to the birth of the European Union, was a watershed moment, marking the beginning of a new era of intergovernmental cooperation, an unprecedented single market project, and supranational implementation and enforcement of a new legal order for the benefit of European citizens.
That is not to overlook the shortcomings of and challenges facing the EU, its constituent institutions, and its member states. The monetary union has come under scrutiny in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis. Critics continue to decry the democratic deficit, and lack of grassroots access to and understanding of the Union and Union rights. But the EU remains the largest and most successful single market in the world, and the impact of that market’s evolution and spillover on European economic, political and social stability and development is not to be understated. In the words of Nobel Committee Chairman Jagland,
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result, the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”
America played a key role in the establishment of this stabilizing force. In the wake of WWII, the Allies were faced with the seemingly impossible task of German reintegration. The concept underpinning the EU was the brainchild of Frenchman Jean Monnet, who vigorously championed the idea of functional integration, pooling national resources and markets under the oversight of supranational institutions, in discrete areas of activity, to lead in time to expanded cooperation and integration in both economic and non-economic sectors.
Monnet found support from France’s foreign minister, Schuman, and the two men sought the approval of President Truman to lend force to their political campaign. And so in 1951, one year after presenting the proposal to the US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, who took the plan to Truman, the six founding states signed the European Coal and Steel Treaty, the forerunner to the European Union of today.
Professor Chace of Bard College has described the fateful meeting of Schuman, Monnet and Acheson in May 1950 as follows:
“No sooner were amenities observed than Schuman expounded the essentials of Monnet’s idea that the whole French-German production of coal and steel be placed under a joint high authority, with the organization open to other European nations . . . It was, as Acheson wrote later, ‘So breathtaking a step toward the unification of Europe that at first I did not grasp it.’ . . . Schuman said he was consulting Acheson because he believed that the scheme was wholly in accord with American policy, and he needed strong support from Washington to help his government push the plan through. Acheson was especially impressed by the simple approach that Schuman brought to a big idea, ‘A far cry from that of American-trained lawyers.’ It was . . . the most imaginative and far-reaching approach . . . to the settlement of fundamental differences between France and Germany.”
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