OSLO, Norway (AP) — European Union leaders arriving in Norway to receive the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize said the 27-nation bloc needs more integration and authority to solve problems, including the worst financial crisis afflicting it since the union was formed.
Conceding that the EU lacked sufficient powers to stop the Bosnia war in the 1990s, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Sunday that the absence of such authority at the time is "one of the most powerful arguments for a stronger European Union."
Barroso was speaking to reporters with EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the EU Parliament, Martin Schulz in Oslo, where the three leaders were to receive this year's award, granted to the European Union for fostering peace on a continent ravaged by war.
Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland will hand over the prize, worth $1.2 million, during a ceremony at Oslo City Hall, followed by a banquet at the Grand Hotel, against a backdrop of demonstrations in this EU-skeptic country that has twice rejected joining the EU.
About 20 European government leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, will be joining the celebrations.
The decision to award the prize to the EU has sparked harsh criticism, including from three peace laureates — South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina — who have demanded the prize money not be paid out this year. They say the bloc contradicts the values associated with the prize because it relies on military force to ensure security.
The EU is being granted the prize as it grapples with a debt crisis that has stirred deep tensions between north and south, caused soaring unemployment and sent hundreds of thousands into the streets to protest austerity measures.
It is also threatening the euro — the common currency used by 17 of its members — and even the structure of the union itself, and is fueling extremist movements such as Golden Dawn in Greece, which opponents brand as neo-Nazi.
Barroso acknowledged that the current crisis showed the union was "not fully equipped to deal with a crisis of this magnitude."
"We do not have all the instruments for a true and genuine economic union ... so we need to complete our economic and monetary union," he said, adding that the new measures, including on a banking and fiscal union, would be agreed on in coming weeks.
He stressed that despite the crisis all steps taken had been toward "more, not less integration."
Van Rompuy was optimistic saying that EU would come out of the crisis stronger than before. "We want Europe to become again a symbol of hope," he said.