01:06 - Source: CNN
Nobel Peace Prize: Why the EU?

Story highlights

NEW: Three past laureates have protested the choice of the EU for the peace prize

Three presidents of the EU's governing bodies will accept the prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed to lasting peace between Germany and France

There are enormous economic disparities between EU member countries

CNN —  

Still mired in the worst economic crisis since its founding, the European Union will receive its Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony on Monday in Oslo, Norway. The three presidents of the EU’s main bodies will take the podium together to accept it.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the choice on October 12, praising the partnership of 27 nations for promoting democracy and reconciliation since World War II. But the choice has not been without controversy.

Within the EU, disparities have persisted between economically strong members – such as Germany, which has fronted European bailout money – and economically weaker countries like Greece, suffering from strict austerity measures and crushing unemployment.

Three Nobel laureates called the award to the EU “unlawful” in a letter of protest in late November. The Union does not qualify as a peacemaker as defined by the prize’s founder, Alfred Nobel, said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.

“The EU is not seeking to realize Nobel´s demilitarized global peace order,” they wrote. They asked the Nobel board “to clarify that it cannot and will not pay the prize from its funds.”

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Parliament president Martin Schulz will represent the 500 million citizens of the union at the ceremony at Oslo City Hall.

The EU will allocate the 8 million kronor ($1.2 million) prize money to support educational projects for children in conflict regions and will add to the sum to more than double it, according to a statement on the EU website.

The projects are to include providing for protective spaces for children, raising awareness about land mines, and the re-establishment of school systems when conflicts end.

In its announcement in October, the Nobel Committee said that the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

It singled out the peaceful reconciliation between Germany and France – an amity forged between neighbors who fought each other last century.

“Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality,” the committee said in a statement. “Today, war between Germany and France is unthinkable.”

The committee also focused on the spread of democracy to newer member nations.

“In the 1980s, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU. The introduction of democracy was a condition for their membership,” the committee said. All three countries saw dictatorships in the 20th century, even after World War II.

It cited progress in peace made by EU candidate nations, such as the former Yugoslav republics.

“We have to keep in mind that there are not so many years ago since people on this part of Europe killed each other – awful wars,” said committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland, referring to the warfare in Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia.

But in the Balkans, the award has been greeted with a great degree of skepticism.

By failing to take a united position at the very earliest stages of the crisis, the EU is widely considered to have contributed to the bloody events that followed. At the same time, its failure to respond more decisively to the conflict once it had broken out is seen by many to have cost tens of thousands of lives, wrote political researcher James Ker-Lindsay of Eurobank EFG in a commentary for CNN.

In the face of widespread fear of growing instability, the prize has been seen by many as a pat on the back for the struggling EU.

“The award by the Nobel Committee shows that in these difficult times the European Union remains a force of inspiration for countries and people all over the world and that our global community needs a strong European Union,” said Barroso.

This year’s winner was picked from 231 different nominations – 43 for organizations and the rest for individuals, the Nobel Committee said.

Other large organizations have won the Nobel Peace Prize, including the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, U.N. peacekeeping forces, the U.N. atomic energy agency and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.