Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Why we all should prize peace that EU has brought

Former Nobel winner John Hume

Congratulations are in order. We in Northern Ireland are more than entitled among the 500m citizens of the European Community to accept the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

According to Alfred Nobel's will, the award should go to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

This grandiose global aim has led to major players on the international stage receiving the award, not always to acclaim and sometimes in the face of open criticism.

The presentation this year has prompted the same question as was posed of many of those recipients in the past: what did they do to deserve it?

The answer in Northern Ireland's case, if not across the rest of Europe, is quite a lot, though the aspiration of Alfred Nobel remains far from realised. We know now that the women's movement of Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan did not achieve peace even though they won the prize in 1976 and also that David Trimble and John Hume in 1998 were the precursors of political compromise at Stormont and not the final arbiters.

Peace comes dropping slow, as William Butler Yeats observed so eloquently. Even today, it is estimated that the world has 150 major unresolved conflicts. Surprisingly, no single individual across the entire Earth was thought worthy of the 2012 prize. Alfred Nobel might well spin in his grave at the cynical reaction to his legacy today with so much criticism of this year's recipient.

Euro-sceptics are having a field day. They argue that giving the prize to the entire Common Market community smacks of either an embarrassing lack of imagination or a display of panic that no one could be found before the traditional presentation of the prize on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death.

The award to the EU has been greeted with media disdain, disbelief and satirical comment, as for example in the current edition of Private Eye with its spoof report: "Wild scenes greet peace prize decision ... in Athens thousands of masked youths, overwhelmed with pride, celebrated the decision by hurling Molotov cocktails at police whilst chanting Nazi slogans about German Chancellor Angela Merkel"

True, we have witnessed public protests on the streets of Europe over painful austerity measures, from Rome to Athens, from Madrid to Dublin. However, we have also witnessed something much stronger - a willingness amongst the political leaders of Europe to find a solution to the economic plight of neighbouring nations. Slowly but surely, a recognition is emerging that there is no other way to resolve these dire issues other than through economic cooperation. Conflict is no answer.

As a consequence, the EC can make a case for winning the prize. The street rioters of Athens and Madrid remain unrepresentative of the vast majority of people in those countries. Nearer to home, in its own small way, the Republic is weathering its own economic storm with the help of Europe and is proving an example for others to follow. The hallmark of today's Europe is increasing inter-dependency on one another, a far cry from the wars of the past.

We, who live on this island, know how hard it is to forgive, never mind forget. That is what Germany, France, the UK, Italy and other European nations have managed to do through common trade agreements, the breaking down of border barriers and, at a more minor level, the twinning of towns and villages. The EC deserves the Nobel peace prize because of the part it has played in holding back the cruel tide of Europe's history of conflict.

Granted, a truly united Europe is still a long way off.

However, the prize of relative peace not only in Northern Ireland but on the battleground of two world wars in the past century is certainly deserving of Nobel's dream.

Euro-sceptics, of which I might number myself as one, should not begrudge the importance of peace in the 21st century to all our lives. For all the wasteful bureaucracy of Brussels, the big positive is in helping to sustain a peace which is priceless to us all.

Alfred Nobel rest easy in your grave. The 2012 recipient is a worthy winner.

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