Bad timing - at the perfect time

By Marta Palombo | 6 November 2012

To quote this document: Marta Palombo, “Bad timing - at the perfect time”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Tuesday 6 November 2012,, displayed on 22 March 2023

Barack Obama and the European Union have two things in common: a Nobel Peace Prize, and a lot of problems. And the two things could be correlated.


Criticised Nobel prizes

Transatlantic relations are based on common values: the commitment to liberal democratic principles, first of all the respect of human rights and the protection of peace. The engagement of both sides of the Atlantic was praised respectively in 2009 for the US President Barack Obama and in 2012 for the European Union, with what can be considered the highest international recognition of engagement in this sector: the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, what these two prizes have in common is not the reason for their attribution, but rather the amount of critique that they have met.

When Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 2009, "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". He had been President of the United States for less than a year, and the reaction was immediate: the Nobel Prize was an absurdity, it was conferred for purely political reasons, it made no sense to celebrate Obama for something he had not done, at least not yet. Last month, the European Union received the same prize, “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe". Reactions were even more extreme: the Nobel Prize was described in the media as a farce, even an insult for Europeans, who saw this award attributed to this unknown political entity, and moreover some sixty years late, if the achievement was the pacification of Europe after World War Two.

Peace and idealism

In both cases, the Nobel Committee was criticised for the bad timing for the attribution of the prize. In October 2009, Obama was already not seen as the man of “hope”: he was a president endeavouring to satisfy the expectations with which was elected; and this expectations being exceptionally high, the world was already disillusioned. His prize was considered to be an award for what he could achieve in the future for international peace, and there were actually many doubts on whether he could achieve anything at all. In October 2012, on the contrary, the Nobel Peace Price of the European Union was considered as something for the past: yes, the EU had started the reunification of the European continent in the 1950s; but the times when it was considered a force for good were remote: it was now the cause of the economic crisis flagellating Europeans.

These two Nobel Peace Prizes could not have been chosen in a worse moment? The fact that they were awarded in moments that were critical for Barack Obama and the European Union is perhaps not a coincidence. The chairman of the Nobel Committee, Thornbjørn Jagland, referring to Obama, actually declared that the prize was a recognition of what the American president had done, and a contribution for sustaining him in the future. This is perhaps the key point: the choice of attributing the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama and the EU at a certain arbitrary time was taken not because the prize was extremely relevant at that moment, but because it could then encourage their idealism, precisely when it was more disregarded. The same as saying: yes, the EU is not doing economically well at the moment; but this is not the point!

Perhaps Barack Obama and the European Union do have something else in common: they want to change the world. And some believe they are actually doing it.

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Photo source: Nobel Peace Prize concert 2009 (Vegardig, Creative Commons License)