RAY SUAREZ: For a closer look at its successes and some of the ongoing challenges facing the E.U., I’m joined by Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, who leads the European Union delegation to the United States.
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA, European Union Ambassador to the United States: Thank you very much.
RAY SUAREZ: I think a lot of people around the world see the E.U. as basically an economic confederation. Was peace really part of the original design?
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA: Absolutely.
Let me say, first of all, that we are extremely happy, extremely proud for this recognition of the Nobel Committee.
Europe is a political project, much more than economic, much more than a commercial enterprise. It is a political endeavor.
It has brought, you know, millions of people in Europe to peace, prosperity, democracy, and freedom. This is extremely important. This is extremely political.
RAY SUAREZ: We saw in that old black and white film from the early ’50s a Germany and France tying their economies together in coal and steel. Has the E.U. made a war between those countries, which had fought three devastating wars in the previous 80 years, unthinkable?
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA: I think so.
I mean, basically, that is simple, is that if you bring economies together, if you bring people together, if you strengthen the interdependence and the interconnection among peoples, you reduce the chances of war.
And conflicts and differences will be solved through dialogue, through negotiation, sometimes long, sometimes messy and noisy, but still without using weapons.
I think Europeans have had enough of wars on European soil.
RAY SUAREZ: In the 1980s, three very significant entries were made, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. You’re Portuguese.
I think a lot of people don’t remember how few years before that all three countries had been dictatorships.
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA: That’s very important, what you just said.
And I lived 17 years under a dictatorship. There was censorship. I could not choose what to read or what to listen as music. I could not travel abroad. There was only one single party, no democracy, no freedom.
We changed that. Greece changed that. Spain changed that.
If you think of the countries in Eastern Europe, the Baltic countries didn’t exist a few years ago, because they were under the Soviet empire. They are now all part of the European Union, single countries having the same rights in democracy and freedom.
I think this is an enormous achievement. And I think the Nobel Committee was absolutely right in recognizing it today.
RAY SUAREZ: Today, we heard, though, from British euro skeptics, prominently members of the Tory party, politicians in Greece, complaining about the European Union and really mocking the idea of you winning a Peace Prize.
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA: Well, in democracy, freedom speech, that is what we have in Europe, and we don’t want to change that. So people are free to criticize.
But, if you take a look at the facts, you know, 70 years ago, there was a Second World War in the territory of Europe. Millions of people have died.
Fifty years ago, countries who are now in the European Union were behind the Iron Curtain.
You know, 30 years, 40 years ago, my country was in a dictatorship. You know, this is — I don’t think people can forget that. We don’t forget that. And we want to prevent it from happening again. And that’s why we are so committed to this political construction.
Of course, we have difficulties today, you know, financial crisis, the aftershocks. They had had a particular impact in euro area, in particular some of the most vulnerable countries in Europe. But if you look at what is happening today in Europe, solutions are always pointing to further and deeper integration.
No one is suggesting to sort of stop the European Union. Everybody is suggesting to deepen it.
RAY SUAREZ: But when are you on the streets of a capital, whether it’s Budapest or Paris or London, and you talk to people about the E.U., they complain about Brussels.
They don’t complain about the possibility of devastating war or inter-European conflict. They complain about Brussels. Maybe you have succeeded too well. They don’t really see war on the horizon anymore.
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA: Well, I respect the citizens. I respect the right of speech. And it’s normal that, in difficult circumstances, people feel the need to demonstrate, to criticize. That’s only normal.
But when you come down to elections, where people express really in a responsible way the way they think, you see parties in Europe that support European project being elected.
See, the most recent election took place in the Netherlands, and we have a majority of parties that support Europe, in spite of the problems.
And they want to address the problems.
Maybe, sometimes, they have different views about the way to address the problems, but they want to do it inside this construction, because they believe that this is the best way to safeguard ultimately the interests of Europe.
And for the younger generation, who has already forgotten the war, there is another narrative that is coming up, is the idea that in a globalized world, small countries like — European countries are at the end of the day relatively small compared to the U.S. or China or Russia or Brazil.
They know that, isolated, it’s very difficult for them to have influence, to have weight in the way the world is governed. And this new narrative about the place of Europe in a globalized economy is coming up with new generations as the reason why we should proceed in this process.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, thank you very much.
JOAO VALE DE ALMEIDA: Thank you very much.
RAY SUAREZ: Online, you can revisit key moments in European Union history in a then-and-now slide show. Find that on the Rundown.