EU's Nobel award gets mixed welcome
(BRUSSELS) - Europe's leaders hailed Friday's award of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in recognition of 60 years without war, but critics attacked it as misplaced, even undeserved, while tweeters derided it as a bad joke.
Alongside congratulations, there were calls too for the EU to live up to its responsibilities as the bloc struggles with soaring unemployment and a slumping economy -- causes enough for war in the past.
Eurosceptics meanwhile found in the award fresh grounds for complaint against an institution they see as overblown, over-extended, and damaging to the true interests of its people.
"This goes to show that the Norwegians really do have a sense of humour," said European parliament member Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, who wants a referendum on Britain leaving the EU.
"The EU may be getting the booby prize for peace because it sure hasn't created prosperity. The EU has created poverty and unemployment for millions," Farage charged.
Lech Walesa, who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize for leading Poland's anti-communist movement, said he was "unpleasantly surprised" at this year's award.
"Certainly the European Union is trying to change Europe and the world in a peaceful way, but it gets paid to do that," while individual activists routinely make sacrifices and take huge risks to do so, Walesa said.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the bedrock along with France of the early steps towards the union after the horrors of World War II, said naming the European Union was a "wonderful" decision.
The prize given by the Nobel Committee in Oslo "honours the idea of European integration," Merkel said, noting the "years of terrible bloodshed, horrible wars, murder and devastation" that had come before.
France said the prize, "which every European is proud of," meant there was a new responsibility now to create a continent that is "more united, more just, stronger and a bringer of peace."
President Francois Hollande said Europe must also be able to offer growth, progress, jobs and solidarity, as well as major projects for durable development and culural exchange.
Britain, known for its reservations about EU ambitions, said the bloc must "preserve and strengthen" its achievements after the award recognised its "historic role in promoting peace and reconciliation in Europe."
Leaders of the European Union institutions themselves were for their part aglow with pride.
"I have to say that when I woke up this morning I did not expect it to be such a good day," was the first response from a beaming Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission head more used to a daily diet of brickbats over the bloc's economic travails.
"The European Union has reunified a continent split by the Cold War," EU president Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement with Barroso.
The $1.2 million prize was "for the 500 million citizens living in our Union," the two added.
NATO, the military alliance set up by the United States after World War II to defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union, likewise saluted the EU's "vital role in healing the wounds of history".
Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament, sounded a note of caution, however, highlighting the dangers posed by the debt crisis to Europe's "internal peace" in exacerbating the rich-poor divide.
"We cannot live in a union where in one country people are really rich ... and in others, people, even academics, have to rummage around rubbish bins to find something to eat."
Social media networks meanwhile were awash with comments ridiculing the choice.
"Anti-austerity protests in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy & France, Nationalism, Fascism, unemployment and poverty. Yeah EU deserves it!" @AnonOpGreece said on Twitter.
Many on Twitter also wondered why the prize was given to a union of states currently wracked by a severe financial crisis, which has led to high unemployment and violent demonstrations in some countries, rather than a courageous fighter for human rights.
"Anti-austerity protests in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy & France, Nationalism, Fascism, unemployment and poverty. Yeah EU deserves it!" @AnonOpGreece tweeted.
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