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Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, And Now The EU?


This morning, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize and they chose the European Union.

THORBJORN JAGLAND: The European Union is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and (unintelligible) social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result, the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.

HEADLEE: That was the chairman of the committee, Thorbjorn Jagland. We wanted to know more about this year's choice, so we called Kristian Berg Harpviken. He keeps a close watch on the selection process all year long. He's also the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. That's an independent research center that focuses on conflict resolution, dialog and reconciliation and he joins us from his office in Oslo, Norway.



HEADLEE: So the European Union was not on your short list of candidates. It was not on - I don't think - many people's, that I read and, with all the protests earlier this year against President Vladimir Putin, I know that you thought this might be the year that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee focused on Russia.

How much of a surprise was this choice?

HARPVIKEN: Well, it was a surprise because I certainly didn't think that the EU would get the Peace Prize in 2012, given that the EU's (unintelligible) severe financial crisis, a crisis which the institutions of the EU hasn't proven particularly adept at handling.

But, of course, the EU is always one candidate on the table of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and it is clear that the current chair of the committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, is also somebody who has always thought that there has been a severe neglect on the part of the Nobel Committee not to give the prize to the EU earlier.

HEADLEE: And, in some way, as you say, a lot of people have thought that, eventually, the European Union would get the prize just because there hasn't been a world war that involved a war between Germany and France in a long time. It's something the committee pointed out. So was this sort of a legacy prize more than anything else?

HARPVIKEN: Yes. The committee is very emphasizing the legacy of the EU in that it has prevented war from breaking out in Europe. It is not, to the same extent, emphasizing the current situation, which is characterized by crisis. The irony in that, of course, is that, in doing exactly that, the committee is also departing from what it has consequentially argued over the past three years under the same chair, namely, that the Nobel Peace Prize should, first and foremost, be oriented towards the person or the institution that has done the most for peace in the recent year, a formulation that is adapted directly from Nobel - that Alfred Nobel formulated back in the mid-1890s.

HEADLEE: So just a technical question for you. When you award it to an organization like this, the European Union, who takes the prize money? Where does it go?

HARPVIKEN: Well, in most cases, when an institution or organization receives the prize, it is shared between the entity and an individual. Not so in this case. That is something that will be up to the power holders within the EU top structure to negotiate amongst themselves.

HEADLEE: You know, I have to ask you. What kind of message is the committee sending with this choice? The choice of the European Union now, when there are riots in Greece, when there are protests in Spain, why pick the EU at this moment?

HARPVIKEN: Well, I think, first and foremost, because influential members on the committee are convinced that the EU is one of the most important peace projects in recent history and they wanted to use the occasion this year and, when there were no other obvious competing candidates, they're doing that, I'd say, despite of, rather than because of the EU being a particularly appropriate candidate in 2012.

HEADLEE: But is there also a possibility, just as with President Obama's selection in 2009, people accuse the committee of trying to get headlines? Is it also possible that the committee was trying to gain attention with this choice?

HARPVIKEN: I don't think that is the primary motive, although I'm convinced that this will gain the Nobel Peace Prize headlines. It's a bit different, though, in Norway and internationally. In Norway, this decision is deemed to stir considerable controversy, precisely because the issue of EU membership is so controversial in Norway, and many critics here see this already as the politicians on the Nobel Committee trying to use their platform there to affect Norwegian domestic politics.

Internationally, I think the reactions will be more mixed. But of course, in many countries, particularly those countries living with the impact of EU financial measures at the moment, the reaction will also be quite negative, I would assume.

HEADLEE: Yeah. I should mention that Norway is not a member of the European Union. That's Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of Peace Research Institute Oslo. He follows the Nobel Peace Prize process very closely and he joined us from his office in Oslo, Norway.

Thank you so much, Kristian.

HARPVIKEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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