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European Union Honored with the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

October 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a group of a half-billion people today — more specifically, the European Union.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: The announcement caused a stir in Oslo this morning.

THORBJORN JAGLAND, Norwegian Nobel Committee: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 is to be awarded to the European Union.

RAY SUAREZ: Norway, though in Europe, is not a member of the E.U., but its five-member Peace Prize Committee awarded the honor to the 27-nation European Union for the advancement of peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe.

In Brussels, the president of the European Commission welcomed the news.

JOSE MANUEL BARROSO, European Commission: The Nobel Peace Prize Council Committee, and in fact the international community, are now sending a very important message to Europe, that the European Union is something very precious, that we should cherish it, for the good of Europeans and indeed for the good of all the world.

RAY SUAREZ: The first iterations of the E.U. were born in the 1950s, out of the idea that close economic ties could help mend a devastated Europe after the Second World War.

But it’s now the economy that has the E.U. facing one of its biggest crises yet. Mounting debts, high unemployment, and austerity measures have triggered protests in some Eurozone nations. The economic woes have created deep rifts among countries using the joint currency, and raised questions about maintaining the euro and even the union.

Germany is the E.U.’s economic powerhouse. Its chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the Nobel Peace Prize shows the value of European unification.

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through translator): The euro is more than a currency because in the end it is foremost about the original idea, the idea of Europe as a community of peace and values.

RAY SUAREZ: But there were detractors, including those who said the E.U. hasn’t dealt with an influx of immigrants. The director of the Amnesty International branch that monitors the E.U. said he hopes the award would encourage the European Union to be more open to refugees.

NICOLAS BEGER, Amnesty International: We really hope that this will be a reminder as to what actually formed the basis of it and what is it that brought us peace, prosperity and the protection of human rights in Europe.

RAY SUAREZ: The $1.2 million prize will be awarded in Oslo on December 10.