Peace and Euroscepticism: The European Union’s role during economic uncertainty

Peace and Euroscepticism: The European Union’s role during economic uncertainty


By: Maija Ehlinger, ‘14C

Between a currency crisis and national protests, the European Union is facing an uncertain future.  In the coming weeks, we may even witness significant shifts in the makeup of this historic organization. Though the most recent reports claim that Spain will not falter or seek economic help from the EU, there is a sense of intense anxiety as skepticism over the legitimacy of the EU as a whole has caused Great Britain to rethink its alliance with economically-depressed Eurozone countries.

It seems every day brings a new report detailing the costly debt crisis that has troubled nearly every corner of Europe.  The chronic debate over Turkey’s place in European politics continues to strain Western relations with the Middle East.[1]  And of course immigration status and disputes over the addition of Balkan States has drastically redefined citizenship and identity in a united European alliance.  But in the midst of this entire struggle, a historic announcement came from the Nobel Prize Association; the European Union as a whole was awarded the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.

Peace Prize? Since the economic downturn of Greece in 2009, several Eurozone countries have spiraled into a debt crisis that led to concentrated social protests and unrest.   Such protests regarding new austerity measures have been particularly devastating in Spain.  We know that the disparities in the Grecian banking system have rippled throughout the Union, making many skeptical that the Euro can uphold such financial turmoil.

But criticism of the European Union is not limited to just international monetary problems; recent allegations of fraud forced the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli to resign last week. Although an investigation has now been launched, early reports state that Dalli’s relation with big-name tobacco lobbyists may have been hindering current EU legislation to curb tobacco marketing within Union countries.[2]  The departure of a senior member of the EU may have a detrimental impact on more than just smoking rates; such a scandal may cause people to rethink to legitimacy and effectiveness of this conglomeration of countries. And during a time of intense economic uncertainty, skepticism is not what the EU needs.

According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the European Union was given the distinction because of its “contribution to the peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”[3] since World War II.  Yet the announcement earlier this month has created a large amount of backlash for committee members, as many feel the recipient does not live up to the standards set by previous Peace Prize award winners. But the selection committee affirms that the European Union has set a precedent throughout the decades to work towards “fraternity between nations.”  For the past half century, the EU has played a crucial role in some of the most important issues in international affairs. The EU has been able to form an alliance between bitter World War II adversaries, France and Germany, such that European-created total war seems impossible today. In recent years, the EU has been credited with increasing peaceful communications between Northern and Southern Ireland,[4] and has successfully integrated former Soviet-controlled countries only a generation removed from the Cold War.

Historically, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have been controversial characters with a wide range of political and social motivations. But this year, we may be witnessing an interesting paradigm shift in the conditions for accessing ‘peace.’ In this context, many feel that the decision to award the EU with the Peace Prize is a recognition of past success as opposed to current stability. As The Washington Post commented, the award is for “peace not economics.”[5] We must remember that the EU did tremendous work to prohibit wide scale calamity in the aftermath of World War II.  But in light of recent events throughout Europe, we must ask the question, is it possible to have stability and peace in a time of economic turmoil? Economic stability is an essential part of development in the modern age.  And when we consider the interconnected nature of the world’s economy today, it becomes clear that fiscal strength is a necessary factor for international peace. If the EU is to live up to its promise for overall peace, it will not be able to divorce economic calamities from the peace process. While its work has been historic, the crisis in the EU has created an unstable environment throughout parts of Europe that may prohibit the EU from fulfilling its potential to unite many countries. Without economic stability, we cannot truly achieve the type of peace that the EU has been praised for. The current state of European affairs and the EU as a whole is too intertwined with monetary woes to justify any such award.

[1] Coskun, Orhan. “EU will lose Turkey if it hasn’t joined by 2023.” Reuters Online. 30 Oct, 2012.

[2] CNBC online. “EU corruption scandal flares up in Brussels.” 24 October, 2012.

[4]  “Michael D. Higgins tribute to Northern Ireland peace process.”  BBC World News.  30 Oct, 2012.

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