European Union leaders accepted the Nobel Peace Prize with a pledge to master the economic crisis that threatens to set back the six-decade quest for a more united continent.
“The test Europe is currently facing is real,” EU president Herman Van Rompuy said in the text of a speech in the Nobel ceremony in Oslo today. “We answer with our deeds, confident we will succeed. We are working very hard to overcome the difficulties, to restore growth and jobs.”
Almost 14 years after the euro’s arrival and nine years after the EU expanded to the ex-communist east of Europe, the rhetoric reflected the diminished ambitions of a bloc that once claimed to be a model for how the world should operate.
Quoting Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and EU founding father Jean Monnet, Van Rompuy said the 27- nation bloc needs to recommit to its loftier purposes in the face of recession and 10.7% unemployment.
In announcing the prize on 12 October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee had just that in mind, calling on Europe’s leaders to advance the integration that started with six countries pooling coal and steel production in the aftermath of World War II.
Van Rompuy related family war memories from Belgium and European Commission president Jose Barroso evoked the democratic revolution in his native Portugal in 1974 as examples of how far Europe has come.
“We are hit by the worst economic crisis in two generations, causing great hardship among our people, and putting the political bonds of our union to the test,” Van Rompuy said. For some, not only joint decisions, but the very fact of deciding jointly, may come into doubt.
The Oslo ceremony was attended by national leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, two figures on opposite sides of the debt crisis.
Back in Brussels, a week of trials await for joint decision-making. Finance ministers will tackle divisions over euro-area bank supervision on 12 December, followed on 13 December by a meeting on Greece’s bailout and on 13-14 December by a summit on the longer-term overhaul of the euro zone.
Barroso, who drew on Pope John Paul II and Vaclav Havel for inspiration in addition to Monnet, listed development aid, leadership on climate change, opposition to the death penalty and the promotion of human rights and disarmament as European accomplishments.
Barroso made the ceremony’s only foray into day-by-day politics, saying the current situation in Syria is a stain on the world’s conscience and the international community has a moral duty to address it.
The EU is the 21st organization to win the peace prize, created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901. It beat out 188 people and 42 organizations. Bloomberg