When the Nobel Prize was awarded to the European Union, the right-wing chorus chortled away in columns and blogs at the folly of this award, showing their abysmal ignorance of history.
For example, Jennifer Rubin is a conservative American columnist and a blogger for the Washington Post. On October 15, 2012, she employed her column to denounce the nomination. “The once-significant award has become the self-esteem builder for undeserving underachievers, a sort of gold star for grown-ups. These days every kid gets a t-ball trophy so now every anti-American pseudo-intellectual can get a Nobel Peace Prize.” Rubin’s criticism is not just a chance to take a cheap pot-shot at Europe, a favorite target of the U.S. right, but this quote shows that her lens of the world is limited to the U.S., interpreting the award as a chance for those nasty socialists in Europe to stick it to the U.S.
Her solution is to give the award to President George W. Bush whose relief saved millions of lives in Africa from HIV/AIDS. What she conveniently forgets is that the U.S. is one of the meanest countries when it comes to overseas aid. Her alternative suggestion is that the Nobel goes the U.S. Marines, “who have liberated tens of millions from barbarous rule,” by which she probably means the incompetent invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S.-backed regime in these countries have taken corruption to new heights, ripping off their own people at every opportunity and torturing their enemies, suggesting that they are not much different than the regimes they replaced.
Rather than acknowledge that the European Union had promoted peace among its members, Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, sought to give the credit to the U.S. whose “suffering … taxpayers continue to defend the Europeans from phantom threats,” to which he added that “the U.S. spent so much for so long to provide the continent’s peaceful development.”
A less strident member of the right-wing commissariat is Iain Murray. Writing in the National Review, he points out that “introducing a common currency, the euro, among countries with widely disparate economies has significantly destabilized the continent.” This is a much more credible criticism, although I would argue that it was how the common currency was introduced rather than the principle behind it. Had Murray perhaps looked at the U.S., he could have observed that within its borders the country houses widely disparate economies. The difference is that the U.S. has central economic management which allows the system to work. This is the missing piece of the euro story, and it appears that the latest crisis may well force European leaders to create a sustainable economic union.
The common currency, for all its faults, represents a brave extension of the European ideal. It was the logical next step to take in the creation of a “society of nations.” With remarkable amnesia, right-wing critics of the European Union are oblivious to its history and significance.
The idea of sovereign nations joining together was a major break with the Westphalian concept of sovereignty. It balanced independent domestic policy with supranational governance, very much like a traditional federation. It showed how globalization could work. In many ways, those promoting global interdependence have shirked the task, while Europe went bravely ahead.
Fiscal sovereignty, an irrelevant principle in a world dominated by transnational corporations and seamless transfers of capital, has been partially addressed by the European Union but needs further attention. Unfortunately, it has been largely ignored by the global architects who put together the postwar global economic order at Bretton Woods, not being taken up by their successors.
Did the European Union deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? Most definitely yes. It has brought peace to a continent that had been fractious for two thousand years, and whose international frictions led to two world wars. As it has expanded, it had moderated extremists and encouraged countries from the former Soviet Empire to adopt democratic practices. It tried to moderate America’s impetuous war in Iraq and it is currently trying to convince the U.S. and Israel that Iran’s nuclear ambitions can be tamed by sanctions rather than an attack on its nuclear facilities. Finally, through generous aid budgets, European countries have helped stabilize developing countries around the world.
Europe may be going through a tough time, but its idealism still shines through which deserves to be acknowledged and rewarded.