Or maybe they could have given it to the concept of peace. That's arguably even more important to the values of the Nobel than the EU. Or maybe to the concept of life (because death is bad, isn't it?). OK, maybe the headline is a bit unfair.
On the one hand, I can completely understand the rationale behind the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Prize for Peace to the European Union. It is certainly indisputable that during the first half of the 20th Century -- not long ago -- the continent of Europe was home to the worst atrocities on the globe. Its violence gave birth to Nuremberg and the very field in which I work, international criminal law. Now, as the Committee said, war between France and Germany is unthinkable. In fact, France and Germany are now closer to each other (diplomatically) than they are to the United States, which is increasingly marginalized because of how it pursues its armed conflict with al-Qaeda.
This remarkable transformation is cause for celebration and certainly deserving of a Nobel. The question is who is responsible for this development, and whether an organization itself -- the EU -- is the best recipient. Bill Schabas argues on his blog that the Council of Europe was more responsible for peace on the continent, though nobody knows much about the Council of Europe (except lawyers). Others complained that the award did not go to an individual. And in terms of organizations, the EU is about as impersonal as it can get. Who will accept the award? Will all of Europe attend the ceremony? The cooks at the banquet better start cooking now. And what would they serve? This brings to mind Gen. Charles de Gaulle's famous quip, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”
It seems to me that the decision was less about which organization deserved the award and more about which organization would receive the most benefit from the Nobel, a similar rationale that animated the decision to give the award to Obama in 2009. The path to political peace in Europe was already well under way before the EU was created. And the EU is an economic union anyway, not really a political union. Of course, some will argue that economic integration in Europe created the very peace and stability that we enjoy on that continent today. But the opposite sounds equally plausible to me: economic integration was only possible because of a pre-existing diplomatic structure of peace and disarmament. No country engages in substantial trade with a country they are fighting in a war.
Clearly, the committee hopes that giving the Nobel to the EU will fortify the union at a time when it faces a crossroads. The euro-crisis, resentment in Germany over their bailout of Greece, and resentment in Greece over externally imposed austerity measures have all conspired to worsen the European debt crisis and shake global confidence in the future of a unified Europe. The committee wanted to insert itself into that debate -- an idea that is very controversial in Norway since there is substantial opposition to the EU among Norwegians who have voted twice against joining the union.