Announcing their decision, committee head Thorbjørn Jagland declared, “The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
“Since 1945 they have demonstrated the need for a new Europe. European countries have been through several wars. Now the war is unthinkable. It shows that it is possible to build bridges, and that two enemies can become allies”, Jagland said.
The EU has been nominated for the award several times over the years but the Nobel Committee believed the present crisis within Europe means it was now leadership and encouragement for unity that were needed.
Mr Jagland added, “the EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable 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. The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”
Today’s move, bound to create controversy and debate in two times anti-EU membership country Norway, was unanimous, according to Mr Jagland.
Opinion as to joining the EU is currently at an all-time low. EU opponent Ågot Valle, a member of the Nobel Committee, was reportedly ill at the time of the prize announcement, Aftenposten reports.
Norway and the EU are also currently engaged in a dispute of the current government’s proposal to raise toll barriers on imports of certain foodstuffs.
Moreover, debate about the EEA agreement aside, there is strong resistance in Norway’s oil sector against the EU’s new rules for offshore safety.
Before today’s Peace Prize announcement, authority on the subject Kristian Berg Harpviken,related who he thought might win.
The director of Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), gave his top five as Gene Sharp, Memorial and Svetlana Gannushkina, Echo of Moscow and Aleksei Venediktov, John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, and Thein Sein, in descending order.
84-year-old US-born Gene Sharp is head of the Albert Einstein Institution based in Boston. He is known for numerous non-violent protest writings that were influential on Eastern European democratic uprisings.
These have also influenced activists such as those from Tiananmen Square in 1989 and Egypt’s Tahrir Square, though some Egyptian activists have disputed this
Russian human rights group memorial, with one of its most profiled rights activists Svetlana Gannushkina, also a mathematician, monitors abuses in modern-day Russia.
The organisation has been carrying out its work since the late 1980s, documenting atrocities under the Soviet-era.
Chechnya office head Natalya Estemirova was abducted and murdered and found killed in 2009, with Memorial’s current leader, Oleg Orlov, having faced charges regarding his statements as to her death. Moscow City Cout discharged these on 20 January this year.
Number three on the list, Echo of Moscow, was established as a radio station in 1990 and is one of Russia’s major independent sources of news and commentary there, and several CIS countries.
Its editor-in-chief is Aleksei Venediktov, and the now TV station and website too it is able to operate relatively freely despite continuous government pressure.
Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar – Sultan of Sokoto – are leaders of Nigeria’s Christian and Muslim communities, respectively. They have spoken out against religion being misused in legitimating conflict.
Sultan Abubakar is now head of the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, whilst Archbishop Onaiyekan heads the African Council of Religious Leaders. Both men have served as co-presidents for Nigeria’s Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein was Mr Harpviken’s fifth and final top choice “for spearheading a gradually evolving peace process in the country.” Peacemaking is at the core of the Nobel mandate.
“A prize to Thein Sein would stir controversy, rightly so, as the peace process is still fragile, and armed conflict prevails between the government and some of the ethnic minority parties,” Mr Harpviken concluded.
The Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo on 10th December.