The Nobel Peace Lecture. From war to peace: A European tale

Wendy Stocker News

The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 34 Issue 1 Spring 2013

At a time of uncertainty, this day reminds people across Europe and the world of the European Union’s fundamental purpose: to further the fraternity between European nations, now and in the future. It is our work today. It has been the work of generations before us. And it will be the work of generations after us. Here in Oslo, I want to pay homage to all the Europeans who dreamt of a continent at peace with itself, and to all those who day by day make this dream a reality. This award belongs to them.

War is as old as Europe. Our continent bears the scars of spears and swords, cannons and guns, trenches and tanks, and more. Yet, after two terrible wars engulfed the continent and the world with it, finally lasting peace came to Europe.

In those grey days, its cities were in ruins, the hearts of many still simmering with mourning and resentment. How difficult it then seemed, as Winston Churchill said, “to regain the simple joys and hopes that make life worth living.” So what a bold bet it was, for Europe’s Founders to say, yes, we can break this endless cycle of violence, we can stop the logic of vengeance, we can build a brighter future, together.

To me, what makes it so special, is reconciliation. In politics as in life, reconciliation is the most difficult thing. It goes beyond forgiving and forgetting, or simply turning the page.

This is where the European Union’s “secret weapon” comes into play: an unrivalled way of binding our interests so tightly that war becomes materially impossible—through constant negotiations, on ever more topics, between ever more countries. It’s the golden rule of Jean Monnet: “Better fight around a table than on a battlefield.” If I had to explain it to Alfred Nobel, I would say: not just a peace congress, a perpetual peace congress!

The Union has perfected the art of compromise: no drama of victory or defeat, but ensuring all countries emerge victorious from talks. For this, boring politics is only a small price to pay.

Peace is now self-evident. War has become inconceivable. Yet ‘inconceivable’ does not mean ‘impossible’.

Europe must keep its promise of peace. I believe this is still our Union’s ultimate purpose. But Europe can no longer rely on this promise alone to inspire citizens. Wartime memories are fading, even if not yet everywhere.

Where there was war, there is now peace. But another historic task now lies ahead of us: keeping peace where there is peace. After all, history is not a novel, a book we can close after a Happy Ending: we remain fully responsible for what is yet to come.

When prosperity and employment, the bedrock of our societies, appear threatened, it is natural to see a hardening of hearts, the narrowing of interests, even the return of long-forgotten fault-lines and stereotypes. For some, not only joint decisions, but the very fact of deciding jointly may come into doubt.

We answer with our deeds, confident we will succeed. We are working very hard to overcome the difficulties, to restore growth and jobs.

Today’s youth is already living in a new world. For them Europe is a daily reality: not the constraint of being in the same boat, [but] the richness of being able to freely share, travel, and exchange; to share and shape a continent, experiences, a future.


“Peace is not mere absence of war, it is a virtue,” wrote Spinoza. And, he added, it is “a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” Indeed, there can only be true peace if people are confident, at peace with their political system, reassured that their basic rights are respected.

The European Union is not only about peace among nations. It incarnates, as a political project, that particular state of mind that Spinoza was referring to. It embodies, as a community of values, this vision of freedom and justice.

I will never forget Rostropovich playing Bach at the fallen Wall in Berlin. This image reminds the world that it was the quest for freedom and democracy that tore down the old divisions and made possible the reunification of the continent. Joining the European Union was essential for the consolidation of democracy in our countries because it places the person and respect of human dignity at its heart, because it gives a voice to differences while creating unity. Our Union is more than an association of states. It is a new legal order, which is not based on the balance of power between nations, but on the free consent of states to share sovereignty.

Peace cannot rest only on the good will of man. It needs to be grounded on a body of laws, on common interests, and on a deeper sense of a community of destiny.

The genius of the founding fathers [of the European Union] was precisely in understanding that to guarantee peace in the 20th century nations needed to think beyond the nation-state. The uniqueness of the European project is to have combined the legitimacy of democratic states with the legitimacy of supranational institutions: the European Commission, the European Court of Justice. Supranational institutions protect the general European interest, defend the European common good, and embody the community of destiny. And alongside the European Council, where the governments are represented, we have over the years developed a unique transnational democracy symbolised by the directly elected European Parliament.

Our quest for European unity is not a perfect work of art; it is work in progress that demands constant and diligent tending. It is not an end in itself, but a means to higher ends. In many ways, it attests to the quest for a cosmopolitan order, in which one person’s gain does not need to be another person’s pain, in which abiding by common norms serves universal values.

That is why, despite its imperfections, the European Union can be, and indeed is, a powerful inspiration for many around the world. The challenges faced from one region to the other may differ in scale, but they do not differ in nature.

We all share the same planet. Poverty, organized crime, terrorism, climate change: these are problems that do not respect national borders. We share the same aspirations and universal values; these are progressively taking root in a growing number of countries all over the world. We share the irreducible uniqueness of the human being. Beyond our nation, beyond our continent, we are all part of one mankind. This federalist and cosmopolitan vision is one of the most important contributions that the European Union can bring to a global order in the making.

The concrete engagement of the European Union in the world is deeply marked by our continent’s tragic experience of extreme nationalism, wars, and the absolute evil of the Shoah. It is inspired by our desire to avoid the same mistakes being made again.

That is the foundation of our multilateral approach for a globalization based on the twin principles of global solidarity and global responsibility. That is what inspires our engagement with our neighbouring countries and international partners, from the Middle East to Asia, from Africa to the Americas. It defines our stand against the death penalty and our support for international justice embodied by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. It drives our leadership in the fight against climate change and for food and energy security. It underpins our policies on disarmament and against nuclear proliferation.

As a continent that went from devastation to become one of the world’s strongest economies, with the most progressive social systems, being the world’s largest aid donor, we have a special responsibility to millions of people in need.

In the 21st century it is simply unacceptable to see parents powerless as their baby is dying of lack of basic medical care, mothers compelled to walk all day in the hope of getting food or clean water, and boys and girls deprived of their childhood because they are forced to become adults ahead of time. As a community of nations that has overcome war and fought totalitarianism, we will always stand by those who are in pursuit of peace and human dignity.

As a Union built on the founding value of equality between women and men, enshrined in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, we are committed to protecting women’s rights all over the world and supporting women’s empowerment. And we cherish the fundamental rights of those who are the most vulnerable and hold the future in their hands: the children of this world.

As a successful example of peaceful reconciliation based on economic integration, we contribute to developing new forms of cooperation built on exchange of ideas, innovation, and research. Science and culture are at the very core of the European openness: they enrich us as individuals and they create bonds beyond borders.

Over the past 60 years, the European project has shown that it is possible for peoples and nations to come together across borders. Our hope, our commitment, is that, with all women and men of good will, the European Union will help the world come together.

© The Nobel Foundation 2012

Excerpted from the lecture presented by the European Union in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2012. First speaker: Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council; second: José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission.


NGO aids formation of EU

This summer Roy Hange will conduct a course on faith-based peacebuilding at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In part, the course “will explore how the faith-based peacebuilding efforts of the group Moral Re-armament forged the reconciliation process between France and Germany after World War II that eventually culminated in the formation of the European Union.”

The nongovernmental organization Moral Re-armament (MRA), now called Initiatives of Change International, has headquarters in Caux, Switzerland. Branches of the organization operate in many countries, including Canada (see the Initiatives of Change Canada website).

According to its website, IofC “is a global network committed to building integrity and trust across the world’s divides. It comprises people of diverse cultures, nations, beliefs, and backgrounds who are committed to transforming society through change in individuals and relationships, starting in their own lives.”

In 1946 MRA opened an international conference centre in Caux. Over several years, more and more Germans and French were invited to the centre and “their encounters became the basis of a massive development in reconciliation” (IoC website).

In a 2001 study published by the Oxford Research Group entitled War Prevention Works: 50 Stories of People Resolving Conflict, Dylan Mathews writes, “The barriers that were broken down and the relationships built at Caux were also a highly significant factor in the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), forerunner of the EU. The aim of the ECSC, unveiled as the ‘Schuman Plan’ in 1950, was to ‘make war impossible’ by the arms industry.”












Spread the Word