I was very pleased to be invited to join the delegation of European leaders who earlier this week accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. After many months of criticism, difficult negotiations and often the tense atmosphere that I have experienced in meetings with ministers, representatives of national parliaments or with the media, the Nobel Peace Prize for the EU came at exactly the right moment.
This award reminded us how Europe looked before the effective cooperation we have today. The strong stories mentioning the millions of people who died during the two World Wars helped to push aside the cynicism and sarcasm which have lately very often overshadowed discussions on European issues.
The festive and motivating atmosphere during the ceremony was also created thanks to the enthusiasm of the hosts – whether it came from the Nobel Committee or from Norwegian citizens in the streets of Oslo. Little did I think when I set out just before eight o’clock on Monday morning through the dark streets of the Norwegian capital en route for a discussion about the European Union that I would end up speaking in front of hundreds of enthusiastic well-wishers.
This great atmosphere permeated throughout the whole day for me: in the meeting I had with the young winners of the EU competition “What does peace in Europe mean to you?”, who through their pictures or 140-character tweets were able to express more than the politicians with their long speeches; or in the evening, when around 1,800 Norwegian citizens came in a torchlight parade to the main square in Oslo to promote European integration. Moreover, the presence of members of the Norwegian royal family underlined the importance and uniqueness of this moment.
As I said, the Nobel Peace Prize for the European Union came at exactly the right moment – at a time of key debates about its future, which should see us move towards a further level of integration. It is only natural that there are plenty of loud voices both for and against this process. That’s why it is also important to stop for a while, to look back and to gain a new energy that will sustain us through whatever the future may bring us.
I wish to fulfil the words of the Thorbjørn Jagland, head of the Nobel Committee, who during the ceremony expressed the hope that the European Union will receive this prize again in 100 years, confirming the uniqueness of its existence and the power of the message that it spreads across the world through its fundamental values – peace, prosperity and respect for human rights.
I hope that the positive message of this week (the Nobel Prize on Monday, the agreement on Banking Union on Wednesday and the successful summit on Friday) will continue in 2013 and that it will finally bear fruit in a form of economic growth, jobs and a reinforced and deeply integrated European Union.