Stronger EU plea after Nobel prize
The surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU confirms the need for a stronger Union, the head of the European Commission has said.
Jose Manuel Barroso said the honour - in recognition of six decades of EU work "to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe" - could not have come at a better time.
"At a moment where the rating of Europe is not always good, this is the kind of rating that we very much appreciate because it is made by an independent institution, the Nobel Peace Prize," he said.
But horrified eurosceptics said the timing could not have been worse. The leader of Britain's Conservative MEPs, Martin Callanan, said: "Twenty years ago this prize would have been sycophantic but maybe more justified. Today it is downright out of touch.
"Presumably this prize is for the peace and harmony on the streets of Athens and Madrid. The EU's policies have exacerbated the fallout of the financial crisis and led to social unrest that we haven't seen for a generation."
Even the EU's biggest supporters acknowledged the irony of the award being granted in the midst of one of the EU's worst crises and at a time of deep rifts between major member states.
But Nobel committee president Thorbjoern Jagland insisted the decision was based on the EU's long-term achievements.
Nevertheless the decision generated every emotion from shock and puzzlement to deep pride in Brussels' EU quarter.
Mr Barroso hastily convened a press conference and started by admitting: "I have to say that when I woke up this morning, I did not expect it to be such a good day."
He went on: "This (prize) is indeed a recognition from the international community that we need a stronger European Union, and a recognition of the contribution the EU has been giving, not only to peace and conciliation in our continent, but also to the inspiration for many around the world that are fighting for these values of freedom and democracy."