Five reasons why it was a bad idea to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU

by | 15 Oct 2012

1) The reporting on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union has been substandard in its simplification of perspectives to a “for or against” binary. It has been assumed that a view on the awarding of the prize has correspondingly also been a view on the recipient: criticising the prize is criticism of the EU too, and vice versa. This is insufficient, even on a purely logical level. One can be a supporter of the EU but a critic of the prize, or the other way around (see below no. 5). The following observations are made from the former position.

2) Like the Nobel Literature Prize, the Peace Prize represents one of those rare moments when an announcement becomes a globally newsworthy event penetrating the ever-growing wall of commodified entertainment. Just like the Literature Prize can bring to public consciousness literature that does not (yet) benefit from the marketing support of multinational publishing houses, the Peace Prize is an opportunity to single out particularly persistent or difficult conflicts around the globe and to recognise the work of the men and women who are trying to resolve them. Only as an example, when have you last read about the ongoing civil war in Somalia or of the peaceful (not military) efforts to end it? Or about the Colombian armed conflict? The prize can also function as an encouragement to bring the parties to the table as in the case of Northern Ireland. There is no ongoing conflict in the EU, and the EU needs no acknowledgement or publicity for the work that it does.

3) According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Peace Prize shall be awarded to a person or institution that has done “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. Over the years there has been much debate over how concrete the conflicts must be to deserve the Peace Prize. The argument used in favour of this year’s recipient was that, through its work for integration and democracy, the EU has secured peace in Europe for over 60 years. Although the integration that has been promoted through the EU and its institutions will have had some pacifying effect on the historically belligerent continent, I dare any social scientist show me a verifiable causal link between the EU and peace. There is no natural law that brings about Franco-German wars if nothing is done, and even without a unionised Europe, we may still have been in the relatively peaceful point at which we are now.

4) Thorbjørn Jagland, member of the Nobel Committee since 2009 and chair in 2012, is Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. Need I say more: the Council awarded the prize to the Union.

5) Awarding the prize to the EU at a time when Europe is experiencing its most difficult peacetime crises is like a kiss of death. The absurdity will further fuel anti-European sentiments and enhance the support of populist right-wing parties who will capitalise on that absurdity with sarcasm and cynicism. To seriously think that awarding the prize to the EU was actually beneficial for the European cause is political naïveté of the most dangerous kind.

Panu Minkkinen is Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Helsinki.


  1. Dear Professor Minkkninen,

    Thank you very much for this post. It is refreshing to read this kind of comments on EU issues. However, I feel that it would be a great idea for the sake of the debate and analysis if you could expand your thoughts on your point “4.”
    As far as I understood the Council of Europe of which Thorbjørn Jag­land was its Secretary General is a completely different international organisation from the EU. In fact the EU has the same relationship with the Council of Europe ( as with other international bodies like the UN or NATO. Thus, the need to expand your thoughts on how that relation influenced the award.

    Thank you very much,

    • See below, Andres.

  2. Although this seems mostly right to me, I am not sure how Point 4 is relevant as the COE and EU are of course different institutions (although Jagland’s membership probably explains why the (I think more deserving) COE did not receive the Prize).

    • Thanks for your comments, Andres and Fiona. You are, of course, both right. There is no ‘legal’ connection between the two organizations. But power doesn’t really work in that way, does it? There is no doubt that individuals in the high ranks of the Union and the Council respectively know each other well through elite networks. If I had been a high-ranking official in any ‘neighbouring’ organization, I would have declared a conflict of interests and withdrawn from the decision-making. If the decision was even after that made, then at least I could claim that I was in no formal way involved. Now it just looks suspicious and feeds further into anti-European sentiments. Thanks again for the comments.

  3. With regards, to point four, it is safe to say now that Panu Minkkinen has effectively stepped into the arena of politics. Politics my dear friend has a morality of its own. So, here we go. What you said about the former Norwegian Prime Minister in reason number four and subsequently in the comment section above is nothing but a smear on a former world leader.


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