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Restoring hope: The European Union and Peace

 

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Dear audience, friends, and representatives of the European Union, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate,

Congratulations. This is a prize you very much deserve.

As far as the timing of the prize is concerned, I would say that it was bad, because in my view the EU should have received the prize many years ago.

But in Norway we can also almost share in your pride. Because there is no other country in the world that is as integrated into the EU as Norway – without being a member. We benefit greatly from the EEA Agreement. That is also why we make a substantial contribution through the EEA and Norway Grants.

But today is not about Norway, it is about the EU. It is a well-deserved prize. An encouragement, a reminder of what the project is really about.

This prize has been the subject of debate, in Europe and here in Norway. There will always be debate about the role of the EU. Journalists measure the day-to-day successes and failures and may be sceptical. But for historians, who see this project in a long-term perspective, the European Union is a tremendous success. It is unique in history in its ability to confront serious challenges. Jean Monnet’s original idea in the aftermath of the Second World War has created the foundations for a different mode of cooperation. What was established then were the foundations for enduring structural integration.

The EU is unique, and it has clearly worked. What has been created is a security community; a cluster of countries that know they will never again use violence against each other.

I followed the integration processes of Spain, Portugal and Greece closely. Their entries into the EU and the institutional changes they had to go through had a unifying effect on various groups in those societies. This was of course also the case when the EU was enlarged to include countries of the former Eastern Bloc. NATO and the EU provided the institutional framework which made this possible. The Copenhagen criteria, the need for economic reforms, the improved situation for minorities; all in all the enlargement process had a very positive impact on the societies that had aspirations of joining the EU.

In the early 1990s we were all deeply concerned about the Balkan states, about whether the countries would return to a state of chaos and border conflicts. But this did not happen. It did not happen because of their vision of future EU membership. The countries had massive internal disagreements on almost everything, apart from membership of the European Union. In order to be granted EU membership, the countries need to meet criteria relating to democracy and respect for human rights and minorities. So once they join, much of the work has already been done. To me, this proves that the EU has been, and still is, a peace project. And now, we are pleased to see that Croatia is about to join the EU as the 28th member state.

The European Union is an active and influential international player. The EU has a highly visible position in the multilateral arena, because it is itself a symbol of multilateralism.

Every country west of Belarus is either 1) a member state, 2) an applicant, 3) a member of the EEA, like us, or 4) Switzerland. Or small countries like Monaco, San Marino and Andorra.

The EU has been a success –- despite the crisis. Still, I believe more Europe is the answer. Less Europe is dangerous.

I cannot think of a candidate that better embodies the intention of Alfred Nobel: to forge fraternity between nations and reduce standing armies.

***

Concluding remarks (after panel discussions):

In my mind, the European Union is one of the most democratic organisations in the world. The story of Europe is that we are able to disagree, and do so peacefully. (As in the case of our Government here in Norway; we are so democratic that we disagree on the EU). My concern now is that there is a danger of the EU becoming too inward-looking, in response to the crisis. The EU needs to continue to reach out and to be an inspiration to other parts of the world. For instance, the African Union, which is modelled on the EU and continues to be an inspiration for pan-African cooperation.

I must remind the audience that the Nobel Committee is completely independent from the Norwegian Government. Despite this, the Government attends the celebrations every year, regardless of who wins. I look forward to this day of celebrations, and once again, congratulations to the worthy winner of this year’s prize.

 

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