Many people throughout the world were certainly surprised on Friday when it was announced that the European Union is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012. Have we run out of people who save souls in the most remote corners of the planet? Have we run out of people who have made a significant contribution to world peace? Are there no human rights organizations that are worthy of the prize?
The decision is baffling considering the fact that 2012 was the worst in the 27-nation bloc's history in light of the financial crisis which threatens its very existence, at least in the current constellation.
The decision to grant the award to the EU is even more baffling if we take into account the fact that the prize committee members are based in Norway, one of the few countries in the continent that have refused to join the bloc. Despite political struggles, elections and referendums, this northern European country is clinging to values that are considered archaic, such as nationalism and economic isolationism.
Despite the economic crisis, and maybe because of it, this revolutionary organization should have been awarded a "lifetime achievement" award rather than a peace prize for realizing, perhaps too quickly, the vision of its founders – Jean Monnet and Robert Shuman.
Why is the EU revolutionary? Because at no other point in history did such a large number of nations and countries agree to relinquish so many characteristics of their independence for greater goals: Peace and stability in the continent, political harmony, economic cooperation and open borders. It is clear that the EU's institutions and conduct are in dire need of reform, but the fact is that one can travel all across the continent and the only things that will remind him that he has crossed into a different country are the menus at the restaurants and the language the street signs are written in.
When thinking about Europe's bloody history over the course of thousands of years, one has to be impressed by the founders' vision and the courage of those who realized it. Ten of millions were butchered during the two world wars that took place on European soil, while today the entire EU is based on the pact between former sworn enemies France and Germany.
What is the meaning of peace? What does making peace mean? In one word - reconciliation. Based on this meaning, the EU was justifiably awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, because it represents the greatest and most stable act of reconciliation in history.
The saying "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?" has been attributed for decades to Henry Kissinger, who served as US secretary of state in the 1970s. Kissinger recently said he doesn't think it originated with him, but he told an audience of diplomats and academics in Warsaw: "I am not sure I actually said it. But it's a good statement so why not take credit for it?"
Over the years the EU has undergone many structural changes, yet still, when the Nobel Committee made its announcement, many people asked a simple question: Who would actually make the trip to Oslo to receive the prize? Would it be European Council President Herman Van Rompuy? Or maybe European Commission President José Manuel Barroso? And what about European Parliament President Martin Schulz? Or perhaps a war of egos will lead to a heartening compromise in the form of a 27-member delegation, to show that reconciliation, like peace, starts from within?
It is hard to imagine that in the 1940s anyone could have envisioned a unified Europe, but there were a few people who did. It's a shame that in our war-torn, violent region people tend to belittle the EU's accomplishments and focus on its troubles rather than listen to those who dream of a better future here. Maybe, because of their vision, a few decades from now the "Middle Eastern Union" will also be honored for a great act of reconciliation.
Daniel Shek served as Israeli ambassador to France and is one of the Foreign Service's most prominent experts on European affairs