Saturday 13 October 2012

Nobel EU: Is it deserved?

So, the EU has finally made it. After several nominations, the big sui generis has been awarded the most prestigious of international awards: the Nobel Peace Prize. Some have said that it was the right choice at the right time, while others regard it to be almost cynical to award to prize to this entity amid the hardships of the economic crisis for which it is at least partly responsible. The Nobel Committee justified its choice referring to the immense success of the Union is maintaining peace between its member states, after centuries of near-constant conflict and animosity between the peoples of Europe. Indeed, war in Europe seems nearly unimaginable today, and the interdependence between the member states that the EU has generated has played an important part in that. Nevertheless, while I agree with the symbolic importance of the step, I nevertheless have problems with the narrative underlying it. While I cannot help but feel happy that this prize has been awarded to 'us' Europeans, I still think that the idea of the EU as an agency of peace is a myth.

Jagland announcing the decision
The author of this Guardian article cites the spokesperson of the Greek party Siriza as saying that "in many parts of Europe, but especially in Greece, we are experiencing what really is a war situation on the daily basis". He thus accuses the Committee's decision is being cynical, as it is supposedly a slap in the face of the suffering millions in the south of Europe. I have to admit that no statement of the last couple of days has made me angrier than this one. As you know from my previous posts, I have great sympathy for Greece and I believe that the Greek people has fallen victim to the excesses of capitalism. Nevertheless, those words can only come out of the ignorant mouth of someone who has never experienced war, and who is unaware of the immense and incomparable human suffering that results from it. The collective memory of WWII was constantly regenerated and reinforced throughout my life, and it is hardwired into my brain to such an extent that I simply cannot believe that people would dare to devalue this horrible episode of European history with such statements. In its recent history Europe has experienced not only WWII but also the Yugoslav wars killing over 140,000 people. What is cynical is to compare the economic hardship that people are suffering in much of Europe with war, the toll of which is so immeasurably higher. I can only hope that these statements stem from ignorance and stupidity, although I still feel that these hardly count as an excuse. If the EU had really been the main force in the termination of war in Europe, it has done a great service to as all.

Nevertheless, that is exactly where I see problems. Yes, I acknowledge that the 'founding fathers' of the EU were idealists, but the European Coal and Steel Community was founded to foster Western European recovery after WWII, and to put American hegemony on a firm economic basis in Europe. European integration was always primarily economic, and the institutions that were created to unite Europe merely allowed capitalism to function as smoothly as possible. The mechanism of integration today is liberalisation and privatization, because it is hoped that denationalised companies will also have denationalised interests, encouraging cross-border mergers, and thus creating truly European interests and motivations. Yes, the idealism is there, but no one cares about the jobs that are relocated on the way, and about the salaries that can only be called exploitative. I once hitchhiked with the manager of the Volkswagen factory in Györ, Hungary. Hungarian workers are payed a quarter of the wage of workers doing the same job in Germany, and at the same time daily expenses are nearly equally high. That too is European integration, and it is the inevitable result a liberal enlargement policy. This is why large companies in the EU-15 greeted the new members with open arms; there were new people to exploit. The standard of living in the new member states may have risen since membership, and enthusiasm was great among the peoples who were now full members of the European family. But did they know that their fields were going to be ploughed by Western European mega-agrocompanies that were going to destroy a centuries-old agricultural landscape? Did they know that their trade policy negotiations were going to be made by the European Commission, an institution which is not elected? Yes, the EU has brought peace, and war in Europe appears to be a thing of the past. I want more Europe, a European government, a European federation, a European foreign policy and a European passport, but not on those terms, and not at any price. The supposed European idealists thought that if they encourage business to operate across borders, they will make European integration inevitable - people will have to choice but to accept it. No, what is needed is a general referendum on a European federation.

The Nobel Peace Prize decision is problematic. They awarded Barack Obama before he had even done anything, and I wonder whether they would make the same decision now, knowing that some many promises could not be held. Since then the whole award lost its value, and it is clear that the Nobel Committee has a political agenda. The EU does not deserve the prize, and the Committee has taken a further step towards rendering the award insignificant.

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