The EU is involved in so many different areas not related to peace building, and frankly, some probably at odds with peace building, that trying to justify awarding it the Nobel Peace Prize becomes an argument in the abstract. It is not much different from awarding it to Canada, Australia or Brazil
The announcement on Friday that the European Union was the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize has already been greeted with a good deal of criticism, and rightly so. Giving the coveted award to such a diffuse and multifaceted entity cannot help but diminish its significance. The Nobel Peace Prize and the four other Nobel prizes were set up in accordance with provisions in the will of Alfred Nobel, which specifically states it should go to the ''person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses''.
Of course, this was not the first time the prize was awarded to an organisation rather than an individual. For instance, in 2005, it was awarded jointly to the International Atomic Energy Agency and IAEA director Mohamed Elbaradei for efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.
In 1997, it was awarded jointly to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Jodi Williams for their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines.
The prize has also been awarded solely to organisations, for example to Amnesty International (1977) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1954).
But with the possible exception of 2001 when it was awarded to the United Nations and then secretary-general Kofi Annan, this is the first time the Noble Peace Prize has been given to an organisation not primarily dedicated to building peace, promoting human rights or relieving the suffering caused by war.
To be sure, the reasoning of the Nobel Prize committee that the alliance of European nations has for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe is hard to dispute, especially when one considers that in the decades prior to the EU's establishment two horrific global conflicts originated on the continent. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his congratulatory message to the EU on Friday, the EU has ''become an engine of integration, weaving together nations and cultures''.
However, the EU is involved in so many different areas not related to peace building, and frankly, some probably at odds with peace building, that trying to justify awarding it the Nobel Peace Prize becomes an argument in the abstract. It is not much different from awarding it to Canada, Australia, Thailand or Brazil and leaves one wondering what it really means.
The Nobel Peace Prize seems much more relevant and inspirational when it is focused on persistent and courageous efforts dedicated to peace, freedom and human rights made by individuals or specialised organisations. This was the case in 1959 when it was awarded to British parliamentarian Philip J Noel-Baker for his life-long work for international peace and cooperation, in 1935 to the pacifist German journalist Carl von Ossietzky, who publicised the secret rearmament of Germany after World War I and was in a concentration camp at the time of his award, in 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi for her long struggle for democracy in Myanmar which is now bearing fruit and in 1999 to Medicins Sans Frontieres for their work in using their skills to provide health care in isolated and often dangerous situations without material reward.
It has already been suggested from several quarters that a worthy recipient of a future Nobel Peace Prize would be Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by religious extremists who objected to her courageous stand in advocating girls' rights to an education. The young woman, who at the time of this writing is in a critical condition after an operation to remove a bullet lodged in her head, had been the target of threats since starting her outspoken online blog at the age of 11 and was nominated last year for the International Children's Peace Prize.
There are doubtless many more profiles of courage in the nonviolent pursuit of peace and justice who would make a better choice for next year's Nobel Peace Prize.