Last October's news on awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 to the European Union broke out for many as a surprise. Comments that followed were mixed. Some commended the decision of the Nobel Committee as timely and well deserved, while others took it as biased and politicised. Supporters of other hopeful awardees were disappointed and all sorts of politicians used the opportunity to remind the public of their existence landing with their – occasionally harsh/critical remarks on headlines of newspapers and other media.
But as time was passing by, more and more Europeans and people around the globe started realising that the prize for EU's contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights, not only in Europe, but in many other spots in the world had been more than merited. The many congratulations we received from leaders and individual citizens can be seen as proof that - despite the recent crisis gloom surrounding the EU in the eyes of external observers – the commitment to peace never goes out of fashion.
The award should be considered as a timely reminder of what our Union stands for and the fundamental principle it was built around – transforming a war torn continent into a prosperous union of democracies. A place where a miracle was made to happen: the wounds of conflict could be overcome to give former enemies a common future. Since then, the EU has embraced as members country after country (next year our membership expands to 28 nations), integrating them into the world's largest internal market and the community of joint institutions.
Today, the EU continues to emanate its attracting power to potential candidate countries and both its Southern and Eastern neighbourhoods, as well as it is in position to serve as a stabilizing force far beyond its borders. European integration has been a source of inspiration for thinking about regional cooperation for numerous organisations and bodies – from the African Union to the GCC, just to give two examples.
For all our achievements we should not be complacent. With their prestigious recognition that resonates with all generations of Europeans, the Nobel Committee also sent a clear message to the EU: we must protect a Union built over six decades spent in the pursuit of peace – at a time when some even try to portray the EU as a "has been". We should also take the award as a boost to step up our engagement for enduring peace and prosperity everywhere in the world. I am happy and proud to be part of a new chapter in the EU's external relations through a unique creation – the European External Action Service. The Nobel Peace Prize puts new wind in our sails to reach out and help all those who do not enjoy the same scope of freedoms as we do and whose lives might be endangered by war, deprivation or hunger.
From Afghanistan to Somalia the EU will continue to work, hand in hand with other partners, to champion peace and fundamental human rights around the globe. To do so, it deploys all of its capacities, its expertise in crisis prevention and resolution, the diplomatic skills of its staff on the ground, the development assistance and humanitarian aid to assist those in need. In the wake of the Arab Spring, we have refashioned our approach to step up our engagement with our closest Arab neighbours on a renewed platform of shared democratic principles and values. Europe has also been lending its strongest diplomatic efforts in leading international negotiations with Iran and, as part of the Quartet and the biggest collective donor of assistance to the Palestinian people, to secure lasting peace in the Middle East.
I hope the EU's success in achieving peace amongst warring nations will continue to serve as an inspiration to others to overcome sectarian strife and deeply engrained hatred, often being insurmountable obstacles in the way of a more future-oriented development. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that people around the globe can continue to count on the EU to give them a helping hand when need be. There could probably not be a better date to hold the Awarding Ceremony in Oslo than today, as the 10th of December has been designated by the United Nations as the Human Rights Day to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
European Union has adopted promotion of human rights and their protection as one of its core most cherished values and put it in the very heart of interaction with others. People in the Gulf sometimes wonder why does the European Union engage itself in human rights issues in other parts of the world and they often consider our actions as interference in the internal affairs of other nations (one of my dear Saudi friends put it bluntly a few days ago: "Why are you guys doing all this?"). The answer is simple. Remembering our own complicated history, both distant and recent - we, Europeans, are particularly attached to the idea of universality of human rights. It should never be understood as lack of respect for other cultures, traditions, customs or values.
Along with the EU high-ranking officials, the delegation designated to receive the award on behalf of European citizens includes four young people from Italy, Poland, Malta and Spain – winners of the EU-wide competition. One of them wrote in her 120 word winning essay that peace is like fresh air which we need to breathe and stay alive, but in our everyday life we tend not to think about it too much, taking it for granted. Proud to be European. Let's breathe peace!
Adam Kulach is head of the Delegation of the European Union, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia