Oslo: European Union Nobel winners pledged at the award ceremony yesterday "to stand by" the euro, saying the single currency was one of the strongest symbols of unity in the bloc's 60-year history.
"Today one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone's hands," said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. "It is the euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it."
The EU was handed the prize as it faces its worst crisis in six decades for turning Europe "from a continent of war to a continent of peace." Tensions between the 17 nations that share the euro and those that remain outside the single currency are heightening amid crisis-linked demands to tighten economic and monetary union.
Tense relations between the bloc's "big two" nations France and Germany are meanwhile holding up a deal to set up a banking union seen as a key to the future of the eurozone.
First steps to such a union will be at the centre of a two-day summit on Thursday and Friday that EU officials hope will agree a roadmap to tighter economic and monetary union in the next couple of years.
With a score of EU heads of state and government looking on, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland handed the prize to a threesome of EU leaders—EU president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and European parliament president Martin Schulz.
Recalling the 80 million European victims of war and extremism last century, Jagland said "peace must not be taken for granted. We have to struggle for it everyday."
"Together we must ensure that we do not lose what we have built." His Nobel Committee has come under criticism however for awarding the prestigious 2012 award to the EU at a time when it is riven by divisions and violent anti-austerity protests.
"We are not gathered here today in the belief that the EU is perfect," Jagland said. "Europe needs to move forward. Safeguard what has been gained. And improve what has been created, enabling us to solve the problems threatening the European community today," Jagland said. "This is the only way to solve the problems created by the financial crisis, to everyone's benefit."
Based on the will of old enemies France and Germany to reconcile after three bloody wars, the EU has grown from six states to 28 next July, when Croatia becomes the latest of Balkans nations embroiled in conflict only 20 years ago to join the bloc.
Leaders of France and Germany, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel, rose to take a long round of applause from the dozens of dignitaries assembled in Oslo City Hall as the Nobel medal, diploma and almost million-euro prize were handed to the organisation's
Snubbed the event
But half a dozen EU leaders, including Britain's Premier David Cameron, snubbed the event, taking place just four days before a key EU summit to determine the pace and next steps in attempts to forge a tighter union.
The EU is bristling with talk of a possible walk-out by Britain—or "Brixit"—and the head of Britain's once-marginal but increasingly popular eurosceptic UKIP party, Nigel Farage, said Sunday "far from bringing peace, the EU is engendering violence, poverty and despair across Europe."
Rich nations of northern Europe and the struggling economies of the south are increasingly divided as austerity reforms trigger protests and feed extremist movements as in Greece.