Why giving the EU the Nobel peace prize is historically problematic

10/12/2012
By

From the French cartoonist Plantu in 1992

 

Today, the European Union gets the Nobel peace prize for “‘transforming Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace”. One of the master narratives on the European integration process so gets a major legitimacy push. From the late 1940s on, selling this political and economic project as one that promotes peace on the European continent has been an often used argument by politicians but also by historians1. Today, British newspaper announced that the future House of European History will be structured around this Nobel Prize.2 Peace was however, at least in practice, not at the foundation of the European Union. For at least three reasons, this peace narrative is therefore not very convincing.

  • At least since the publication of Alan Milward’s The European rescue of the nation-state3, we should know that at beginning of the European integration one finds very egoistic, nationalist arguments. France wanted to control the German coal and steel production. West Germany wanted to reintegrate the international community: the Schuman plan was the solution. One could argue that the European Coal and Steel Community was the continuation of war by other means, to use a slightly changed aphorism of Carl von Clausewitz.
  • Secondly, and this is also true from the beginning on, the European integration process was not designed as a tool of peace but as a weapon in the context of the Cold War. The United States needed an United Western Europe that did not spoil its limited resources by internal division. In the first decades after World War Two, the West European integration process was an European division process4.
  • Finally, the European Union was not a tool for peace during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Several European countries pursued their own agenda: France being particularly benign with Serbia, Germany sustaining Croatia, Greece considering Macedonia as a threat…5 These divergent policies fuelled the conflict  and paralysed the European institutions. It was only with the intervention of the United States under Bill Clinton in 1995 that an international common response was elaborated that brought a fragile peace to this part of the continent.
  1. Pichler Peter, Acht Geschichten über die Integrationsgeschichte : Zur Grundlegung der Geschichte der europäischen Integration als ein episodisches historiographisches Erzählen, Innsbruck, Studien Verlag, 2011. []
  2. The Telegraph, The Daily Express… []
  3. Milward Alan, The European rescue of the nation-state, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992. []
  4. Goschler Constantin et Graf Rüdiger, Europäische Zeitgeschichte seit 1945, Berlin, Akademie Verlag Berlin, 2010, p. 58. []
  5. Only a naive Jacques Poos, at this time foreign minister of Luxemburg, believed in 1991 that the “The hour of Europe has dawned” Judt Tony, Postwar : a history of Europe since 1945, New York, Penguin Press, 2005, p. 674. []

Benoit Majerus

Since January 2011, I am working as Associate Professor at the University of Luxembourg. I have written my PhD on the occupation of Belgium during World War One and World Two. Actually I am trying to write a history of psychiatry in the 20th century from below. I am also co-editor of h-madness.

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4 Responses to Why giving the EU the Nobel peace prize is historically problematic

  1. […] ist nicht ausgemacht, wer dieses Mal ins Gras beißt. Benoit Majerus verweist auf einige historische Daten der […]

  2. [...] ist nicht ausgemacht, wer dieses Mal ins Gras beist. Benoit Majerus verweist auf einige historische Daten der EU-Prähistorie: At least since the publication of [...]

  3. Hütchenspiel going Nobel on 11/12/2012 at 12:38

    [...] ist nicht ausgemacht, wer dieses Mal ins Gras beist. Benoit Majerus verweist auf einige historische Daten der EU-Prähistorie: At least since the publication of Alan [...]

  4. Raf De Bont on 10/12/2012 at 21:51

    Hey Benoît,
    I agree the EU shouldn’t have received the Nobel prize. And I also agree the peace narrative can be used to obscure other (less positive) histories. Yet, out of your three reasons, I don’t think the first two are that convincing. If the European Coal and Steel Community was waging a war with other means – than it is not too difficult to see which ‘means’ one would prefer. 1951 might not have been about altruistic love and understanding, but the solutions worked out then were still preferable to those of 1941.
    The major problem with the Nobel Prize, I would argue, is that by giving it to such a heterogeneous and multifaceted institution, with a history of over 60 years, it is unclear which project (and which people) you are actually giving an award to.
    All best!
    Raf

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