12 Oct 2012

EU wins Nobel Peace Prize despite debt crisis

10:36 pm on 12 October 2012

The European Union has won the Nobel Peace Prize for its long-term role in uniting the continent - an award seen as morale boost for the bloc as it struggles to resolve its debt crisis.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the 27-nation EU for rebuilding after World War II and for its role in spreading stability to former communist countries after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

The prize, worth $US1.2 million, will be presented in Oslo on 10 December. The decision by the five-member panel, led by committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland, who is also Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, was unanimous, Reuters reports.

The EU has been a key in transforming Europe "from a continent of wars to a continent of peace," Mr Jagland said in announcing the award in Oslo on Friday.

"This is a message to Europe to do everything they can to secure what they've achieved and move forward," he said and it was a reminder of what would be lost "if the union is allowed to collapse".

The EU won from a field of 231 candidates including Russian dissidents and religious leaders working for Muslim-Christian reconciliation.

But the EU is mired in crisis with strains on the euro, the common currency shared by 17 nations and the prize was a surprise given the EU's current woes, Reuters reports.

Norwegians are bitterly opposed to the EU, seeing it as a threat to the sovereignty of nation states.

"I find this absurd," the leader of its anti-EU membership organisation Heming Olaussen told NRK. "In Latin America and other parts of the world they will view this quite differently than they will from Brussels. The union is a trade bloc that contributes to keeping many countries in poverty."

Norway has voted "no" twice to joining the EU, in 1972 and 1994. The country has prospered outside the EU, partly thanks to huge oil and gas resources.

The five-member committee is appointed by parliament, where parties are deeply split over EU membership. Mr Jagland has long favoured EU membership.