Europeans faced with a crushing economic crisis have gotten a lot of bad news in the past few years. Although I’m no economist, I am a German native studying in the States and I’ve recognized good news amid the bad. Last Friday, the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Few people have asked me about that so far, which is a shame, since I’ve written a little acceptance speech for this memorable event:
I’m proud to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU has a lot of problems, and we Europeans tend to forget what this Union once was — and I believe still is — all about: The EU is one of the largest peace projects in history. I hope that today, all people who are part of this Union feel not only German or French or Spanish or Polish — but also European.
The following lines, spoken by Winston Churchill in 1946, have been quoted countless times as part of the foundation of Europe: “If Europe is to be saved from infinite misery, and indeed from final doom, there must be this act of faith in the European family and this act of oblivion against all the crimes and follies of the past ... The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important … Therefore I say to you: Let Europe arise!” In 1951, six countries, including the wartime enemies Germany and France, founded the European Coal and Steel Community, which expanded in 1957 to become the European Economic Community.
The history of the European Union is part of my own history as well. While officials were signing treaties about the future of France and Germany, my grandfather opened his house for guests from France as part of an exchange between his village and a French village. Neither my grandfather nor my grandmother spoke French. The husband in the exchange couple spoke a little German, but his wife Armelle spoke none. Somehow, they communicated with my grandparents. And somehow, they all became friends. When I went to France in the summers growing up, my family always visited them. For me, they are like a third set of grandparents. When my grandmother died this spring, the couple sent one of the most touching letters I’ve read in my life. In a Europe without the dream of a Union and a peaceful future, none of this could have happened.
The EU was not the sole savior of Europe. Without the American military presence in Europe and the financial assistance included in the Marshall Plan, things might have turned out quite differently. Without the EU, I am quite sure they would have, and I think it would have been for the worse.
I don’t think the EU is perfect — far from it. Politicians have used the EU to adopt laws that their own parliaments would not have agreed upon. Some countries have welcomed the economic benefits of the EU without recognizing the responsibilities that come with them. In spite of that, I hope that today, we all remember the ideals on which the Union was built. The current crises might even give us a chance to re-think Europe and eliminate some of the weaknesses of the EU: its distance from the population, over-complicated structure, inflated administration and a deficit of democracy.
The Nobel Peace Prize gives Europe the chance to look back on the enthusiasm that both politicians and ordinary people once felt toward the project. However, we should not consider the Prize reason to rest on these laurels. Europe is an unfinished project.
Something I deeply admire about America is its undaunted belief in the American Dream, which glues the country together in spite of all its problems and differences. There is a European Dream, too. Both dreams might be myths. But that does not mean we can’t make them reality. If not now, then when can Europe start to believe in its dream again?
Hardt is an English major from Freiburg, Germany.