Peace Prize for EU: congratulations!

15th October, 2012

Congratulations to the European Union for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is well deserved and recognises the enormous contribution over six decades that the EU has made. It’s so easy to take for granted the peace we enjoy. And if this award does nothing else it will make many people stop and think and consider this fact.

When I ran for the European Parliament the commonest question was “what has the EU done for us?” One of the best answers came from my old friend and veteran campaigner the late Philip Whitehead MEP. He always argued that the EU had helped to bring peace in Europe and beyond. I know he would be absolutely delighted at this award.

How can this claim for promoting peace be justified, after all there have been wars in Europe? However the process of reconciliation has been driven by the desire to join the EU. War criminals have been brought to justice, disputes settled, and communities are learning to live together, even if for no other reason than to be able to accede to the high standards that EU membership requires and the benefits it brings.

During the late 1990s I was privileged to undertake work with Save The Children in Hungary and Slovenia promoting civil society. I worked with many voluntary groups that were just setting up and being supported for the first time as legitimate forms of organisation. Much of this was driven by their wish to join the EU and the requirements to encourage community action and civil society.
It was incredible to witness a whole voluntary sector growing for the first time. Something else we often take for granted, but was virtually unknown here.

The EU is far from perfect and reforms are needed, not least the wasted money in moving between two parliaments! However my generation has much to be thankful for. By my age my grandparents had lived through two world wars. I hope the EU spends its prize money on promoting understanding between nations, perhaps through exchanges of young people and voluntary groups.

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