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EU Takes The Cake



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EU Takes the Cake

by Anna Gawel

How do you celebrate good news? With cake, of course — or, in the European Union’s case, a long, logroll of a cake crammed with the flags of each of the bloc’s 27 member states.

The occasion? The Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to the EU on Dec. 10 in Oslo, Norway. Later that same day across the pond in Washington, D.C., more than two dozen ambassadors converged on the Belgian Residence off Foxhall Road to toast the historic event.

Photo: The European Union Delegation to the United States
European Union Ambassador João Vale de Almeida cuts a bûche de noël cake featuring the flags of all 27 EU member states as part of a reception to celebrate the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union.


All 27 EU envoys were invited to partake in the bûche de noël cake — though with so many ambassadors lining up for a slice of their flag-decorated portion, the scene was a bit chaotic at first, in some ways mirroring the unwieldy nature of the bloc itself. (Likewise, at the awards presentation in Oslo, not one but three EU officials accepted the Nobel Prize.)

But in the end, everyone got a piece of the pie.

Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, head of the EU Delegation to the United States, suggested that the bloc’s difficult, at-times lumbering makeup shows just how remarkable the project of European integration has been, bringing together widely disparate nations that throughout history were more likely to kill each other than do business with one another.

Today, however, what began as a coalition of six countries to create a common coal and steel market in the 1950s that would make war unfeasible, is one of the world’s most powerful unions, binding together a continent with a centuries-long tradition of division.

Photo: The European Union Delegation to the United States
Ambassador of Belgium Jan Matthysen welcomes more than two dozen ambassadors and guests to his residence for a Dec. 10 reception celebrating the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to the European Union earlier that day.


“I couldn’t think of a better recognition of everything we’ve done in the past,” Vale de Almeida said, noting that the EU today encompasses 500 million people and boasts the highest standards of living in the world.

“We are today the biggest economic bloc in the world … the biggest provider of humanitarian and development assistance,” he told the packed audience, which included ambassadors from nearly every EU member country, as well as top envoys from Russia, Cape Verde, Brazil, Peru, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jordan and elsewhere. A bevy of State Department officials were also on hand, including Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats, who spoke about making the transatlantic alliance “more ambitious, more comprehensive and more dynamic” over the next 20 years to face a new set of global challenges.

Vale de Almeida, acknowledging the “enormous debt” that Europe owes America, agreed that relations should be strengthened and noted that a proposed EU-U.S. free trade agreement would boost fortunes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Photos: Anna Gawel
From left, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Estonian Parliament Marko Mihkelson, Ambassador of Latvia Andris Razans, and Ambassador of Estonia Marina Kaljurand attend the European Union-Nobel Peace Prize reception held at the Belgian Residence.


Vale de Almeida also said that after 60 years of integration, the EU is not done growing — and though it won’t expand as rapidly as it did in 2004, when 10 mostly former Eastern bloc states entered the union, Croatia is set to join in 2013.

“We are today united by freedom. Not a single country has left the union — not yet,” the envoy quipped, alluding to Greece’s economic morass that’s fueled perennial rumors about Athens getting kicked out of the EU.

Indeed, while the huge diplomatic turnout — the Pouch can’t remember seeing so many ambassadors crowded together in one room — demonstrated that EU membership is still a source of pride for many nations, awarding the bloc the Nobel Peace Prize has also been a source of contention. (It didn’t go unnoticed, for example, that the country that bestows the prize, Norway, has twice rejected becoming an EU member.)

Ambassador of the Netherlands Rudolf Simon Bekink, left, and Ambassador of Luxembourg Jean-Louis Wolzfeld attend the European Union-Nobel Peace Prize reception held at the Belgian Residence.


Today, the union is more fractured than ever, with the euro crisis threatening its very existence.

Not only does the specter of debt-riddled Greece leaving the bloc loom large, economic hardship in Spain, Portugal and Italy could unravel decades of fiscal integration. The fact that the EU was built largely as a monetary union, not a political one, has also exposed a fundamental schism in the European project: Member states sought the benefits of a single currency, but were loath to relinquish any sovereignty to Brussels. However, the wealthy northern states who’ve had to bail out their indebted southern neighbors are now just as loath to keep forking over taxpayer money without demanding stronger EU oversight and control.

As a result, the EU is grappling with ways to reconcile this contradiction, recently agreeing to establish a single banking supervisor, for example.

But critics of giving the bloc the Nobel Prize also point to another contradiction: Alfred Nobel sought to recognize peace, and the EU relies on the military to ensure its security and survival.

The Nobel Committee begged to differ, saying, “The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

Vale de Almeida said that’s precisely why the Nobel was “absolutely deserved,” offering a forceful rebuttal of the criticism.

Ambassador of Peru Harold W. Forsyth, left, and Ambassador of Brazil Mauro Vieira attend the European Union-Nobel Peace Prize reception held at the Belgian Residence.


“A continent that once exported war today promotes peace around the world as a model,” he argued. “I think the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the European Union is a very powerful recognition of what we have done in Europe to move from war to peace, to reconcile the peoples of Europe, the countries of Europe around the project of democracy, freedom, respect for human rights and cooperation,” he added.

“We celebrate today 70 years of peace in Europe after centuries of atrocities…. This is the longest period of peace in this part of the world,” Vale de Almeida stressed. “Forgetting or underestimating the costs of peace and war is dangerous.”

So is underestimating the price of freedom, he added, reflecting on his own upbringing. “I lived for 17 years under a dictatorship in Portugal, so I’m particularly aware of what it means to be free, to live in a democracy, to have our human rights respected, and the European Union was crucial in providing this to my country and many other countries in Europe — in Eastern Europe, those who were behind the Iron Curtain, in Spain and Greece that had been under dictatorship as well — and today we are 500 million people together in peace. I am extremely proud of that.”

Ambassador of Finland Ritva Koukku-Ronde, left, and Ambassador of Cape Verde Maria de Fatima Lima da Veiga attend the European Union-Nobel Peace Prize reception held at the Belgian Residence.


But he added that the EU cannot rest on its laurels and grow complacent against a stubborn, deep-seated financial crisis.

In fact, the Nobel Prize should serve as an impetus for action to keep that crisis from tearing the EU apart.

“I think this Nobel Peace Prize is both a recognition of past achievements as much as it is an inspiration and an encouragement for our future action. But it is also a wakeup call for the present, for today,” Vale de Almeida said. “We need to know that this is a fragile enterprise, always, like all human enterprises. It’s very precious for all us Europeans. But in order to sustain it, we need every day to contribute to make it stronger.”

The ambassador pointedly added: “To all the naysayers, do we think the EU does not deserve this prize just because we’re going through an economic crisis? Are we diminished just because we have difficult, long meetings and summits?” he asked. “Would you prefer member states to engage in battles using guns or using words?”

Ambassador of Russia Sergey I. Kislyak, left, and Susan Lehrman, chair of the American University’s Initiative for Russian Culture, attend the European Union-Nobel Peace Prize reception held at the Belgian Residence.

Ambassador of Cyprus Pavlos Anastasiades, left, and Ambassador of Malta Joseph Cole attend the European Union-Nobel Peace Prize reception held at the Belgian Residence.

About the Author

Anna Gawel is the managing editor for the Washington Diplomat and a contributing writer for the Diplomatic Pouch.





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