Tariq Ali: EU prize an insult to peace

Issue 

The European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 12. The chairperson of the committee tasked with awarding the prize, Thorbjoern Jagland, praised the EU for transforming Europe “from a continent of wars to a continent of peace”.

Amy Goodman, host of US independent news show Democracy Now!, spoke with veteran Pakistani-British writer and activist Tariq Ali about the decision. An abridged version of the interview is below.

* * *

When you got up this morning and heard the news that the Nobel Prize committee has honored the European Union, given it the Nobel Peace Prize this year, your response?

My initial response, Amy, was to burst out laughing, because this Nobel Peace Prize committee, basically run by clapped-out former politicians in Norway, never fails to amuse and disappoint. I mean, they constantly behave like this. Their prize choices over the last 20 years have been laughable, in some cases monstrous.

[They gave this] prize to the European Community at a time when economically, it is promoting unemployment, creating real class divides in virtually every country in Europe, where it has led to enormous violence on the streets of Greece, because of the policies being pushed by the EU.

Democratically, there’s a huge deficit. The vote cast in the whole of Europe has gone down 40% over the last 20 years. About 43% of the people vote. The young barely bother to vote at all.

The EU's constitution was rammed through at a time, several years ago, when not even the politicians who signed it had read it.

And the third policy of the EU, which is not talked about much, that it is now almost a duty of every country joining the EU to automatically become part of NATO. So giving the EU the prize is also rewarding NATO.

And it’s worth remembering that virtually every major EU country has troops in Afghanistan. Every major EU country has supported and ratified the occupation of Iraq, even though some opposed the war.

So it is a complete and utter joke, especially at this time, when there’s complete turmoil on the streets of southern Europe. And it just shows that these Norwegian former politicians who comprise the committee are completely out of touch.

And I am sure there will be anger in Norway itself, as there usually is when they announce the peace prize.

The Norwegian Peace Council has called for the resignation of the head of the Nobel Committee after it awarded the peace prize to the European Union. The Norwegian Peace Council said: “Granting the EU the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 indicates its highly political dimension, awarding it to a project that for the past year has proven to represent the opposite of peace.”

The Norwegian Peace Council has criticised the peace prize in the past. In fact, Alfred Nobel specified that the peace prize should only be given to those who are actively promoting the cause of peace, which the EU doesn’t do.

In the Middle East, for instance, it has backed and supported everything the Israelis have done as far as the occupation of Palestine is concerned. It has tried to isolate the elected Palestinian government in the past. It has carried on supporting the war in Afghanistan.

This decision will not be popular even among many, many Swedish―Norwegian members of parliament. I was there a few years ago when they gave it to Barack Obama. About 10,000 people demonstrated against the decision, because Obama had just said he was going to escalate the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Nobel Prize committee has become a version of the EU. It’s undemocratic. It’s self-appointed. There’s no accountability whatsoever.

And something needs to be done to change it. In the case of the prize committee, it should be internationalised. It can’t just be these deadbeat politicians.

Panos Skourletis, the spokesperson for Greece’s main opposition party, the left wing, anti-austerity SYRIZA, said: “I just cannot understand what the reasoning would be behind it. In many parts of Europe, but especially in Greece, we are experiencing what really is a war situation on a daily basis, albeit a war that has not been formally declared. There is nothing peaceful about it.”

Well, Greece is, of course, a classic case in point. They created a situation with their demands ― the German banks, in particular, backed by the French banks and the politicians who defend the system ― that has made the life of virtually every Greek, right up to the middle classes barring the very rich, miserable.

I’ve been to Greece often over the past year and a half, and the situation is really bad now. And more to the point, that when there was a chance that the SYRIZA leader, Alexis Tsipras, might be elected ― they came very close ― every EU politician, including the recently elected Francois Hollande of France, went on Greek television and appealed to the Greek people that “if you vote for SYRIZA, you will be crushed. This is a suicidal thing. Greece will be destroyed.”

These threats worked. The elderly, in particular, didn’t vote for SYRIZA, but the young did. And so, this open intervention, anti-democratic, in the elections of Greece, a European Union country, had a very negative impact.

The question is, why did this committee behave like this? And it’s because it’s totally out of touch. It doesn’t care. It feels it can be part of the prize committee forever. They nominate each other. And I think this time, though we’ve said this before, they’ve gone too far, and people will be very angry.

European Commission President Barroso praised the Nobel Committee’s decision. He said: “We must never forget that, at its origins, the European Union brought together nations emerging from the ruins of the devastating Second World War and united them in a project for peace built on supranational institutions representing the common European interest. The European Union, then European Community, has reunified countries split by the Cold War and has made it around the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, justice, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

Barroso was a leader of Portugal during the Iraq War and decided to back the war, against the wishes of a majority of the Portuguese people. For him to stand up and talk about defending human rights, when he participated in a war which led to the death of more than 1 million people, is just outrageous.

Barroso, as well as the other leaders of the EU, have sanctioned new laws which have suspended habeas corpus, which have limited civil rights and human rights of European citizens, which have participated in renditions and handing over European citizens to be tortured in other parts of the world or to be sent to Guantanamo.

So all this, rings very hollow.

As for the absurd remark that the European Union has united Europe after the war, this is total nonsense. The EU didn’t exist after the war. What actually helped Western Europe after World War II had nothing to do with Europe. It was the United States.

It was the US Marshall Plan, which poured in money to build Western Europe, as part of their contribution to this side of Europe, compared to the east, which was under Soviet control.

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