OSLO, Norway — The European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize today for promoting peace and human rights in Europe following the devastation of World War II, and the bloc was urged to use that unity in its battle with the region’s economic crisis.
About 20 European government leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, attended the ceremony in the Norwegian capital.
But not everyone approved the decision to give the prize to the EU, which was created 60 years ago.
Three Peace Prize laureates — South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina — have demanded that prize money of $1.2 million not be paid this year. They said the bloc contradicts the values associated with the prize because it relies on military force to ensure security.
Amnesty International said Monday that EU leaders should not “bask in the glow of the prize,” warning that xenophobia and intolerance are now on the rise in the continent of 500 million people.
Prize committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland handed the Nobel diplomas and medals to EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and president of the EU Parliament Martin Schulz at a ceremony of in Oslo’s City Hall.
Jagland said the EU was instrumental in making “a continent of war (become) a continent of peace.”
“In this process the European Union has figured most prominently,” he told an applauding gathering of several hundred people.
This year’s prize comes against a backdrop of protests as the debt crisis for countries using the euro currency triggers tensions within the union, causing soaring unemployment and requiring massive austerity measures.
In his speech, Jagland said that European unity has become even more important as the EU battles its financial problems.
“The political framework in which the union is rooted is more important now than ever,” he said. “We must stand together. We have collective responsibility.”
Jagland said the awarding committee had decided to honor the EU, which grew out of the conviction that ever-closer economic ties would make sure that century-old enemies such as Germany and France never turned on each other again.
He described that reconciliation as “probably the most dramatic example in history to show that war and conflict can be turned so rapidly into peace and cooperation.”
He said the presence of Merkel and Hollande on Monday made “this day very particular, symbolic for all of us,” prompting applause and bows from the two leaders.
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896. Similar ceremonies are to be held in the Swedish capital for the Nobel laureates in medicine, chemistry, physics and literature.