Published in Business Spectator (Melbourne), 18 October 2012
The decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award this year’s peace prize to the European Union was criticised by the usual British eurosceptic suspects. The leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage said he was “baffled” and feared the Nobel prize had been brought “into total disrepute”.
Historian Andrew Roberts, author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, wrote that nothing better represented the degradation of the Nobel Peace Prize “than the ludicrous decision to award it to the EU, an organization that has done nothing whatever to bring peace, and is currently spawning riots and mayhem in many of its vassal states.”
Not to be outdone, the tabloid The Sun screamed “EU have got to be joking!” in one of its typical headlines.
But what do all these Little Englanders really know? Of course the EU fully deserved the prize. If anything, it deserved more than that. Why stop at peace?
Literature would have been an obvious prize for the EU to win. According to some estimates, since 1957 the EU and its predecessor organisations have produced more than 660,000 pages of law. That dwarfs the literary output of all previous winners in this category from Sully Prudhomme in 1901 to Mo Yan in 2012.
Of course it’s not just by sheer quantity that the EU wins the comparison. Unlike many poets and novelists, the EU’s written output has a profound impact on people’s lives. Where would Europe be without the EU’s Toy Safety Directive, requiring children under 8 years of age to be supervised when blowing up latex balloons?
Physics is another category in which the EU is prize-worthy. The discovery of spinning particles pales into insignificance compared to the spin that can be observed after EU summits. Talking of EU summits, they are living proof that perpetual motion machines do exist. The EU rotates around itself without showing any signs of slowing.
As for chemistry, it may seem like a miracle but the EU has achieved true mastery in turning toxic matter into central bank assets through its central bank. By the way, this would equally justify a prize in medicine as the EU has seemingly suspended the laws of biology to keep a dead currency alive.
Which leads us straight into the one category that the EU should have won before all others: economics. After the Nobel Economics Committee had used many of its decisions over the past decade to celebrate those economists who show where conventional economics fails, the EU should have been awarded a prize for demonstrating that economics does not matter.
Given sufficient political will, countries, their economies and their currencies can be united even if they have nothing in common whatsoever. This disproves Robert Mundell’s theory of optimum currency areas, and thus it would only be fair if Mundell voluntarily handed back his 1999 Nobel Economics Prize in shame. He clearly had no idea what he was writing about.
Given all of these unquestionable achievements of the EU in the fields of literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and economics, it appears a timid cop-out for the Nobel Foundation to only hand over the peace prize to the EU. It was as if the jurors had feared criticism for being too eurocentric. As if Europe’s outstanding achievements for regional and global peace had not already been celebrated enough since the Balkan Wars and Rwanda. As if anyone could doubt the EU’s positive role in preventing Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
If there was anything unfortunate about handing the peace prize to the EU, then it was only its revelation of an embarrassing weakness in the construction of the EU which would have otherwise gone unnoticed: There is no EU Directive for accepting Nobel prizes.
Soon after the prize had been announced, confusion broke out in Brussels. Of course the EU had deserved it and so it should have long been prepared for it! But who should accept the award? The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso? The President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy? The Presidency of the Council of the European Union which, by the way, is not the same President of the European Council but currently held by Cyprus? Or perhaps even the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz (although that would make the EU look too democratic)?
Or maybe none of the above? At least that’s what former German treasurer Theo Waigel claimed. According to Waigel, the prize really belonged to those historic leaders that had built the EU – people like former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Kohl would have deserved a prize for endurance in any case. This year, he had been on the shortlist for the peace prize for the 22nd year running but the chancellor of Germany’s peaceful unification has been consistently passed over to let more deserving candidates win – candidates like Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Yasser Arafat.
The other calamity the EU now faces due to a lack of regulatory clarity concerns the use of the prize money. A surprisingly constructive proposal came from the aforementioned EU critic Andrew Roberts. He suggested it might best be used to pay for an independent audit of the EU’s accounts since the EU’s own auditors have not signed off on the EU’s budget for more than a decade.
On the other hand, for an aspiring global institution like the EU such a practical use of money would be beneath its dignity. Using a globally recognised peace price to pay for a few auditors and accountants just doesn’t feel right.
A much better and more ambitious use of the prize money would help prepare the EU for its future achievements – and to finally close the gap now so painfully revealed by the Nobel Peace Prize. The money should be spent on a platoon of lawyers to draft an EU Directive on accepting Nobel prizes. Because the EU should never be caught flat-footed again when it is finally awarded its Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, economics and literature.
And then, if there’s any cash to spare after this exercise, perhaps they could also seek some professional advice on how to fix Greece. But that’s optional.