Political Animal


October 13, 2012 12:15 PM Dept. of WTF: the EU wins Nobel Peace Prize! Really!!

By Kathleen Geier

I haven’t seen much about this in most of the political blogs I frequent, but the Nobel committee’s decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union strikes me as bizarrely misguided. On the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Dylan Matthews, a neoliberal contrarian in the classic New Republic mode, predictably cheers the decision, but Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith is much closer to the mark. As Smith points out, the EU is pretty much synonymous with the Eurozone, and these days the Eurozone is all about inflicting its sadistic austerity policies on the masses:

Admittedly, the EU is not the Eurozone, but with the biggest nations in Europe members of the currency union, Eurozone politics are likely to continue to dominate that stage. And as we and others have chronicled at length, the Eurocrats seem determined to strip periphery countries of sovereignity and put not just their economies but their societies on the rack in a failing plan to save the banks of the surplus countries.

It’s true that the EU is not an entirely malevolent institution; it has done some good, particularly in establishing human rights standards for the continent. But that good is heavily outweighed by the severe damage it is causing, in the untold pain and suffering it is inflicting, and the countless ruined lives it is leaving in its wake, via its punitive austerity measures. Those formerly solidly middle class people in Spain, who now resort to dumpster-diving for their next meal? An epidemic of “suicide by economic crisis” throughout Europe? Folks, those are your Eurozone — and, by extension, EU — policies in action.

That the Prize was awarded to EU at this particular historical moment is very bad news indeed; it appears to be a powerful signal that the European establishment is giving its full backing to ruinous, oppressive austerity economics. Only time will tell if this particular Prize will prove as infamous as the one to Henry “Christmas bombing” Kissinger in 1973 (the great Tom Lehrer famously remarked that when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, satire became obsolete).

But really — when you consider all the heroic human rights activists around the globe, who every day put their lives on the line to advance social justice and human freedom — like this heroic, and tragic girl, to take but one example — and consider that the committee chose to give its Prize instead to an institution whose main priority seems to be coddling and enriching the bankers and damning working people to ruin and starvation? That seems utterly morally depraved, to me.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • Old Uncle Dave on October 13, 2012 1:14 PM:

    An utterly disgusting choice. The 1% have taken over the Nobel Committee.
    What's next, giving the Nobel in Economics to Jamie Dimon?

  • TCinLA on October 13, 2012 1:25 PM:

    Quoting from Mike Lofgren's "The Austerity Trap: Is Past Prologue?" at the Huffington Post this past week:

    In March 1930, as the Great Depression was descending on the world like a new Ice Age, Heinrich Brüning became chancellor of Germany. An exponent of economic orthodoxy, Brüning immediately proposed austerity measures to cut salaries, pensions, and unemployment compensation, while at the same time tightening credit. These measures got a cool reception in the Reichstag, which rejected some of them. But just as the present-day European Central Bank -- essentially a tool of German policy -- is able to lay down the law to debtor countries regardless of popular sentiment, Brüning was not to be dissuaded. He invoked article 48 of the Weimar constitution (the so-called emergency clause) and implemented his measures by decree.

    The results were predictable. Unemployment surged towards 30 percent. Industrial production eventually sank to 58 percent of the 1929 level. Most ominous of all, in the September 1930 election, the hitherto obscure National Socialist German Workers Party, which had previously held only 12 seats in the 577-seat Reichstag, surged to 107 seats, making it the second largest party in the assembly. By the time Brüning was two months out of office, in July 1932, the Nazis had 230 seats, making them Germany's largest political party. They were poised to reap the harvest of Brüning's folly.

    Heinrich Brüning was not an evil man. He succeeded in keeping the Nazis out of government coalitions, and even banned public demonstrations by the Brownshirts. But his economic policies, analogous to bleeding an anemic patient, more than nullified whatever good he had attempted to do.

    Then as now, during a time of sharp economic contraction, one simply cannot cut one's way to recovery and fiscal balance. Austerity is a trap. The fall of purchasing power and industrial production resulting from austerity means that future revenues will shrink as fast as government spending falls -- or even faster. The budget deficit will hardly be improved (if at all), and the only real difference will be that the economy will have contracted. This state of affairs in turn makes it more difficult to balance the budget in future years, because the economy will be starting out from an artificially depressed base.

    That is not to say that the Greeks are wholly innocent actors here. There have been fraud and boondoggles galore in the Hellenic Republic. In retrospect, a small country with a population smaller than that of Ohio would have been well advised not to blow $11 billion on the 2004 Olympics. What the prophets of fiscal rectitude are loath to admit is that Greece had plenty of help along the way -- from the Eurocrats (including Germans) who winked at Greece's application to join the Eurozone, to the European banks that lent it money, to Goldman Sachs, who cheerfully assisted the country in camouflaging its financial imbalances.

    But pursuing the chimerical quest for fiscal stability becomes problematic if it endangers social stability. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, already the fifth largest faction in the Greek parliament, would, according to polls, become the third largest if elections were held today. It is not unthinkable that Europe's miraculous post-World War II prosperity and social solidity could unravel one country at a time.

    The Germans should not cry too hard in their Oktoberfest beers. The Eurozone has been a remarkable absorption mechanism for the German export industry, allowing it to pile up enormous trade surpluses. One cannot reap all of the upside and disclaim any responsibility for the downside. And if one looks back in history far enough, every country is a welsher. For all the harm Brüning did, his government did catch one break. During his administration, the Allied Powers permitted a moratorium on the reparations payments that Germany owed pursuant to the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was initially suppose

  • c u n d gulag on October 13, 2012 1:25 PM:

    Well, considering the prize is named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, this award is appropriate.

    Starvation through austerity is a WAAAAAAY more peaceful way of killing people than blowing them to smithereens!

    If blowing poeple up was the criterion, George W. Bush would have won, instead of Barack Hussein Obama.

    On a serious note, Nobel Committee: WtF?!?!?!

    Austerity breeds hunger and starvation.

    What happened?
    Did you forget to award Joe Stalin and Chairman Mao for their fine efforts to starve their people in the last century?

  • Nick on October 13, 2012 1:50 PM:

    Good news for President Romney: he'll have a Nobel shot next year.

    Nice debate, Barack. (This will replace 'Thanks again, Ralph' as my go-to expression of disgust at election results.)

  • Hedda Peraz on October 13, 2012 1:51 PM:

    On the Other Hand, it is called the "Peace" Prize.
    And Europe, who had not had fifteen contiguous minutes of "peace" for the last thousand years, has been in that State of Grace since the EU was founded.

  • N.Wells on October 13, 2012 2:24 PM:

    NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.
    Yes austerity measures suck, but this is not what the peace prize is about. For ALL of European history, European countries have been waging war with one another, in an endless array of shifting alliances. Whenever anyone ran into domestic problems or ran short of cash, they'd invade a neighbor. Whenever a leader developed an outside ego that needed feeding (which was pretty much always), he'd have his country invade everybody else. Whenever any neighbor started to get too big and powerful, everybody else pulled together to fight the big guy. Absent all of that, religious differences or simple hatred of "other people" could always be relied upon to incite an invasion or a progrom of one kind or another. Europe has managed to put a stop to that. It's far from perfect, but it is way better than having one "war to end all wars" right after another, and one "hundred years war" gliding seamlessly into the next.

  • mudwall jackson on October 13, 2012 2:24 PM:

    what hedda said.

    good grief. how many millions died worldwide in the first half of the 20th century because of european wars and you're quibbling over what is essentially a political decision?

    a little vision please. whatever you think of the austerity of the moment the eu beats the hell out of trench warfare. the blitz, bombed out cities and gas chambers.

  • Grumpy on October 13, 2012 2:25 PM:

    I mainly thought it was odd because I consider the EU to be the equivalent of a government entity. Awarding the EU is less like awarding, say, the Red Cross and more like awarding Switzerland. My first reaction was, "Well, there must not have been any worthy recipients this year, and they already gave one to Obama." Same thing happened in 1988 and 2001 when it was like, "How about the UN? The UN does peace, right?"

    Not to say that the EU hasn't played a role in keeping peace, but why now?

  • N.Wells on October 13, 2012 2:29 PM:

    i.e., yes, what Hedda said (sorry, Hedda, I was too steamed by Kathleen's post to have paused long enough to read all the comments).

  • Heather on October 13, 2012 2:29 PM:

    "It’s true that the EU is not an entirely malevolent institution; it has done some good, particularly in establishing human rights standards for the continent."

    Well how generous of you! I think you need to stop and consider that,for all it's faults, there has not been an armed conflict within the EU for almost 70 years...a remarkable achievement for a continent where for the prior 2 millenia (and prior) barely a decade went by without bloodshed and war somewhere. Furthermore the EU has been responsible for raising the living standards of people across the continent. Have a check back at how things were for Spain, Portugal and Ireland in the 60s and 70s and even with the current economic madness you'll find people who are much better off. That's the reason that even with all the crap they're putting up with from Germany, neither Greece or Spain want to leave the EU. I really think judging the history of EU on the recent responses to the economic crisis is shallow at best.

  • skiddie2 on October 13, 2012 2:47 PM:

    This is really not intellectually rigorous. You start out by (a) eliding the EU and Eurozone (and admitting that you are, and then ignoring it!), and (b) completely ignoring ANY reasons the committee gave for this decision.

    Fine, it doesn't fit within your neat and facile understanding of the world in terms of domestic political arguments, but grow up! There's more happening here than a simple austerity/growth battle.

    Honestly, things like this make me think that despite all of the fine blogging here, it's not worth reading this blog anymore. What a lazy post.

  • carambar2 on October 13, 2012 2:58 PM:

    I am digusted by people that call the Euro body birds names, fascism and else.
    At the end of the day you are calling for POPULISM. youwant politician to surf on the mood of the day. this Do you know how populism ends up??? in wars and dictatorship.
    Politician that do not have a look on the long term do not are opportunits. We all know there are hundreds of this kind ready to take power.

    speaking of the pain in Greece or Spain, I just want to remind you that the Euro crisis is 10 time wordt because the US realestate disaster has erased hundred of billion of European banks capital, leaving them very vulnerable.
    Without the US realestate the damage control would have been much easier.

  • Alan Tomlinson on October 13, 2012 3:47 PM:

    You are either profoundly ignorant or you are also an economist.

    Ending war in western Europe doesn't strike you as a good thing? Or are you so uniformed that you think that peace in Europe was caused by the US?

    I know nothing of you as a human being, but right now, given what you've written, I wouldn't trust you to tie my shoes.

    With slight regard,

    Alan Tomlinson

  • Amusing Alias on October 13, 2012 5:58 PM:

    I took this award as a warning to Germany: "Germans haven't killed any Europeans in nearly 70 years. If any Greek or Spanish children start starving we'll have to reset Germany's Former International Butcher timer to zero."

    These awards are often about hope, i.e., You've got an award for not killing anybody, now try to live up to it.

  • DJ on October 13, 2012 10:40 PM:

    Did you even bother to read the Nobel Committee's citation? They pointed out that France and Germany fought each other in two devastating wars in the 20th Century alone, and others behind. Thanks to the EU, war between Germany and France is now as unthinkable as war between the United States and Canada.

    Moreover, for the first time in history, some 300 million people in Europe have the freedom to live, travel, and work anywhere in the continent. Young people in Europe are not growing up with the fears and hatreds of other Europeans who happen to live on the other side of a border, or of the continent.

    Honestly, the shallowness and ignorance of the weekend crew is maddening.

  • Keith M Ellis on October 14, 2012 12:10 AM:

    I find myself very ambivalent because I think the essence of the criticism of Kathleen's post is correct; but I also think that Kathleen's emphasis on the injustice and, more to the point, disruptiveness of the EU's austerity program is also correct.

    That is to say, the creation of a unified Europe and a commitment to it is truly an historical and beneficial achievement which should be celebrated and of which the EU should be proud. It without question is one of the greatest advancements toward peace, ever, given the entirely contradictory history of the first half of the twentieth century.

    But the austerity program is unjust, wrongheaded, and disruptive. It actually is increasing the tensions working against a unified Europe and it partly arises from a german-centric view that is worrying in its historical resonance.

    However, that's part of the context that I think Kathleen isn't recognizing. As another commenter says, the Peace Prize is often an attempt at an instrument of policy influence. The committee is trying to reward the impulse toward a unified Europe while, arguably, signaling that the EU is risking this enterprise by not attending to the opposing forces it's encouraging with the austerity program. Austerity is bringing into stark relief the north-south European divide -- that the notion of a unified Europe is as much a fragile illusion as it is reality. Europe's leaders seem simultaneously committed absolutely to a unified Europe while also to austerity ... and they, so far, will not recognize the contradiction. When things truly reach a breaking point, it's anyone's guess which direction they'll choose. Insofar as a unified Europe means the kind of interdependence that requires the Germans to subsidize the periphery, I think there's a strong impulse in Germany to abandon the European project. This would be a Bad Thing.

    So I think that both Kathleen and her critics are both right and wrong, all at once. The European project is a great achievement in peace and deserves recognition. It's also endangered by austerity and the tensions that austerity is revealing. And the committee is right to give this award for both those reasons, not just the first. That is, it's both deserved and a warning.

  • pjcamp on October 14, 2012 2:23 AM:

    It is difficult for you to understand because your sense of history doesn't extend past the day before yesterday.

    Europe has had more and better wars than any other geographic locale. And within living memory. My step grandfather was awarded a bronze star at Anzio.

    The continent went up in flames like clockwork about every 20 years for centuries. The European Union stopped all that.

    What it may be doing today is irrelevant as economic policy has nothing to do with pursuit of peace. You're thinking of something else. The fact that the Union has prevented war for going on 70 years is a Big Goddamn Deal.

    Grow up and get your head out of today.

  • James Wimberley on October 14, 2012 4:43 AM:

    The EU did not set up and does not enforce Europe's human rights standards. The European Convention on Human Rights was adopted by the intergovernmental Council of Europe, for which I used to work, in 1949. The EU would love to take it over but so far has failed.

  • Jonah on October 14, 2012 7:46 AM:

    I think this was the most shallow and logically self serving post I have ever read on this site. As many have already commented the EU has stopped war in Europe, brought great prosperity to the periphery countries until this crisis and united the continent and it's people like never before. It's accomplishments have been miraculous.

    Yes, the past few years of misguided policies have been ruinous, but that does not erase decades of progress, and I think this award is not an endorsement of current economic policies but instead a recognition that those failures must not lead to the dissolution of the EU, even if they were to lead to a break-up of the monetary union.

  • Frankie Gamwell on October 14, 2012 10:13 AM:

    I'm a lefty and when Obama won it I was scratching my head. They were in essence saying that the end of the Bush administration instantly made the world more peaceful. (It did!)

    There are people out there in the worlds most violent brutal regions, risking there lives to bring about dignity and change. Why are they not recognized. $500,000 would go a very long way for most of them.

    In short, the Nobel Peace Prize has become an embarrassment.

  • cmdicely on October 15, 2012 12:21 PM:

    What does any of your argument have to do with the Peace Prize?

    In addition to the myopia that can't see beyond the problems of the current year, you seem to be confusing the Peace Prize with some hypothetical prize for promoting economic and/or social development, rather than one for doing "the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".