EU's Nobel peace prize allays misery but some say it is undeserved

BESIEGED by economic woes and insistent questions about its future, the European Union has accepted the Nobel peace prize with calls for further integration and a plea to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln as he addressed a divided nation at Gettysburg.

The prize ceremony, held in Oslo's City Hall and attended by 20 European leaders as well as Norway's royal family, brought a rare respite from the gloom that has settled on the European Union since the Greek debt crisis exploded three years ago, unleashing doubt about the long-term viability of the euro and about an edifice of European institutions built up over more than half a century to promote closer union.

Unemployment and sputtering economic growth across the 27-nation bloc were ''putting the political bonds of our union to the test'', Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said in his acceptance speech.

''If I can borrow the words of Abraham Lincoln at the time of another continental test, what is being assessed today is whether that union, or any union so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.''

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU had moved from ''pooling coal and steel, to abolishing internal borders'' and had expanded from six to soon having 28 members with the addition of Croatia in 2013.

''Today one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone's hands. It is the euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it,'' Mr Barroso said.

Aside from economic misery, the most serious threat to the bloc is growing pressure in Britain for a referendum on whether to pull out of the union. British Prime Minister David Cameron did not attend the ceremony, sending Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, but most other European leaders did, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who sat next to each other and whose countries, once bitter enemies, have been driving European integration.

The EU said the prizemoney, worth 8 million Swedish kronor ($A1.15 million), would be used for children in conflict zones.

Mr Van Rompuy's comparison of the European Union to the United States is likely to irritate critics of the EU, who reject efforts to push European nations to surrender more sovereignty in pursuit of what champions of federalism hope will one day be a United States of Europe.

Hailing the EU for helping bring peace to Europe after repeated wars, Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said: ''What this continent has achieved is truly fantastic, from being a continent of war to becoming a continent of peace.''

The decision to honour the EU stirred widespread criticism in Norway, whose citizens twice voted not to join the union.

On the eve of Monday's award ceremony, peace activists and supporters of left-wing political groups paraded through the streets of Oslo chanting: ''The EU is not a worthy winner.''

Three former peace prize laureates, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also questioned the decision, in an open letter.


This story EU's Nobel peace prize allays misery but some say it is undeserved first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.