Leaders of the European Union have accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to the EU for uniting the continent after the horrors of two world wars.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognised the 27-nation bloc for its contributions for more than six decades to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in his speech on Monday that while "war is as old as Europe", former European enemies had bridged differences through reconciliation, citing the examples of France and Germany.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU had moved from pooling coal and steel, to abolishing internal borders. He defended the euro as one of the most visible symbols of unity. "We will stand by it," he said.
Nobel Committee head Thorbjorn Jagland said although Europe had great difficulties, the committee has sought to call to mind what the European Union means for peace in Europe. "What this continent has achieved is truly fantastic. From being a continent of war to becoming a continent of peace," he said.
The EU said the prize money, worth eight million Swedish kronor, would be used for children in conflict zones.
AFP reports that the decision to award the prize to the EU raised criticism in some quarters. Three former peace prize laureates, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, questioned the decision, writing in an open letter that the EU was not "the champions of peace" Alfred Nobel had in mind.
The peace prize is one of the awards endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. The winners of the Nobel prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics received their awards later on Monday in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.