I am proud today of the European Union being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo for so many reasons. I was not born in Europe, though most of my ancestors are European. I went to university in Europe, worked, married and had a baby (half-European) in Europe. I became a European citizen through marriage, and I have watched Europe evolve over these twenty-five-plus years of studying, living and working here on and off, into a place where the younger generations truly feel European. Why does this matter?
At the World Policy Conference www.worldpolicyconference.com in Cannes this past weekend, leaders of European institutions, countries, companies and their neighbors gathered to discuss, among other topics, the future of the EU, something which has been criticized in the U.S. and in Cameron's UK far too often. I would argue that the European Union is one of the most optimistic works in process or "flows," as Mario Monti called it during his talk at WPC, for many many reasons.
Firstly, the European Union represents a coming together of peoples, cultures, economies and social desires for improvement which will help benefit the environment. Already the standards set for 2020 for renewables within the EU are forcing countries to move ahead with ambitious projects which will help to preserve and improve the standard of living for Europeans and fight against climate change.
Secondly, Europe may not be the best at some things, but it does represent a kind of quality of life in many parts of Europe (though with the crisis this will surely be hotly debated) which many parts of the world, including the United States, could only hope for due to lack of funding, fear of government, unions, and many other organizations which simply do not exist elsewhere -- such as the European Human Rights Court in The Hague (where the UN International Human Rights Court is also located).
I know from my many years of studying, living and working in the U.S. that when I wanted to have children, I came back to Europe. Public schools may be suffering in some places more than in others but, besides in the UK, public schools still have massive support and are the norm. Health care is still far ahead of the U.S. and most parts of the world in places such as France and much of Scandinavia (Norway, ironically, presents the Nobel Peace Prize but is not part of Europe though my friend, Paal Frisvold is working on that, and calls the awarding of the Nobel to the EU "The most important day of my life.")
This award is not about comparisons, but about what peace means. During financial crises nationalistic tendencies and protections tend to be highlighted, but the EU being forced to work out ways to both "save its integrity financially" and create a dialogue which sees few boundaries proves that peace and respect for all within a population of 500 million can be, and is being, created. There are still many problems and differences to be ironed out but, even if one looks only at the process (and it is a process) or the handling of the financial crisis in the EU, whether one agrees with the outcome or not, the very fact that is that the dialogue was real, deep and -- like in any lasting relationship -- continuous. It is only when dialogue breaks down completely that a relationship is irrevocably broken.
I also want to say that the financial crisis has had some unexpected benefits for young people in Europe even though, in terms of unemployment in places like Spain and Greece, they have suffered the most. But it forced some of them to do something they may never have done if things had been going well at home, and that is travel to another European country to find work. This alone has created new ties between nations. Walk into almost any café or hotel in London and there are usually a few young French people working there. Visit a university campus and the student body reflects a willingness to make use of a wonderful exchange program called Erasmus. Turn on the television, and watch Arte in both French and German or, from next May 2013, the new EuropeTV channel, which will host programming in every language in Europe from news to documentaries to educational programming created in and about Europe and focusing on Europe's relationship with the rest of the world.
Europe has an extremely important role to play in the future of diplomacy, education and cultural exports. It also is a wonderful melting pot of those who have come from outside of Europe to help it grow stronger and more diverse. I, for one, am excited about my daughter growing up here.
So congratulations to the European Union today on its well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize! And as we toast Europe from Paris with champagne, we can know that across this great continent, and even in the UK, there are many millions of proud Europeans who feel that they are closer now than ever before, and focused on solutions and a better future for all.