PARIS — By naming the European Union the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made an unconventional choice that celebrated the bloc’s postwar integration even as a financial crisis and political infighting threaten to tear it apart.
Members of the Nobel committee lauded six decades of reconciliation among enemies who fought Europe’s bloodiest wars while simultaneously warning against the hazards of the present. The decision sounded at times like a plea to support the endangered institution at a difficult hour.
“We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes," said Thorbjorn Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the panel awarding the prize, in an interview after announcing the award. “There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization."
Yet on the very day that the award was announced in Oslo, leading European policymakers again publicly bickered over how to deal with Greece’s bailout.
In light of the recent upheaval, the Nobel announcement was greeted with surprise, perplexity and, from some corners, even mockery.
“The Nobel committee is a little late for an April Fool’s joke," said Martin Callanan, a British member of the European Parliament and the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. “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."
The announcement was taken by the EU elite in Brussels — and by its surviving founders — as a moment of profound vindication. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the award proved that the European body was “something very precious."