Why Did the European Union Win the Nobel Peace Prize?

BY Larisa Epatko  October 12, 2012 at 11:56 AM EST

The European Union, which struggled for the past few years to keep afloat its members in financial straits, received a flash of recognition Friday when it won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

Norway’s Nobel Committee said in announcing the award that the regional body “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

The European Union formed in the 1950s with six member states following a divisive World War II, with the notion that nations whose economies were tied together wouldn’t turn on each other.

“Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable,” the Nobel Committee said Friday. “This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.”

From EU headquarters in Brussels, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso called the award a “tremendous honor” and said the prize was not just for the institution but for the 500 million citizens living in the union.

But with Europe’s current financial troubles, the regional body now faces “the worst crisis” in its history, said Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti at the U.N. General Assembly (see his speech and other highlights of the world meeting).

Over the summer, EU member states forged an agreement that included a bank rescue fund, which Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, head of the European Union delegation to the United States, called a “major step” toward a solution on the June 29 NewsHour:

“Everyone realizes that, if Europe is to come out of this crisis stronger, we need to have more Europe, meaning we need to be more integrated,” he said. “We need to transfer more sovereignty to central institutions, accept that solidarity comes also with discipline, and discipline requires solidarity.”

The cost-cutting measures the EU places on its members to receive bailout funds have roiled some populations. Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics weighs in on recent protests in this Sept. 26 interview:

The EU also has taken a tough stance on Syria, joining the United States in imposing sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (View all of our Syria coverage.)

See more of our Eurozone Crisis coverage and World reports.