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Bits and bytes vs bombs and bullets: Why the EU’s Nobel prize is visionary

15 October 2012

The Nobel Prize announcement has triggered another round of EU bashing. There are many reasons today to be critical of the EU. Any positive appraisal of the EU project could be seen counter-intuitive. Keeping this mind, I would like to argue that the decision of the Nobel Prize committee is not only justified but also visionary.

The EU is about negotiations and compromise, both of which are part of its DNA. Every day, hundreds of meetings are held in Brussels discussing everything from the proverbial shape of a banana to geo-strategic issues. Decisions are often made after long deliberations around big tables seating representatives of the 27 member states. Yes, some are ‘more equal’ due to their size and influence, but everybody is involved in making decisions.

The Nobel Prize award for the EU comes at a time when diplomacy and compromise are becoming a necessity. The problems of an interdependent world cannot be solved by the use of military force. A world of bits and bytes cannot be ruled by bombs and bullets. Diplomacy and compromise are not only ethically superior to military force but also more practical.  In a world where both diplomacy and compromise are often viewed with suspicion, many can learn from the EU.

Apart from the Nobel Prize justifications, diplomacy and compromise are of geo-strategical relevance for the EU. The EU has fewer chances to remain global player in a system dominated by power politics. Unlike other major power centres (the USA, China, BRICS) the EU cannot centralise and deploy military and financial resources easily. By its design, the EU is slow. Inclusive deliberations take time. Therefore, by promoting inclusive multilateralism on a global level, the EU can gain new influence and power which it cannot get in traditional power politics.

The EU is most vocal in protecting global public goods. It has been a leading promoter of sustainable development and climate change, to name just two policy fields in which it is active.

In Internet politics, the EU is the only public institution that has the means of ensuring that major players such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook play a fair market game on a global level. Check the size of the offices of these companies in Brussels and you will see why the EU is becoming the regulatory capital of Internet world.

‘We need you’ is the echoing message that comes to Europe from all corners of the world. It is not only because of its market. The world needs the EU as a model for dealing with public policy issues. The world needs the EU because of diplomacy and compromise.

Once the EU gets out of this current financial crisis, the reasoning for the Nobel Prize will be clearer. Today, it may well be a case of us  not seeing the forest for the trees.

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