Forget the financial crisis and Greeks burning Nazi flags: European Union is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Nobel committee said the award was for 'the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights'
But critics condemn the move at a time when the bloc is gripped by the Eurozone crisis and facing serious questions about its future
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg says it is 'slightly interesting' to give to the award to an 'acronym'
Tory MEPs joke the Nobel committee 'is a little late for an April fools joke' and declare: 'Parody is redundant'
Tony Blair hails the EU as 'one of the defining concepts' of the last 50 years
The prize is awarded by a panel of five people from Norway - which is not even a member of the EU
The European Union was today awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, despite being in the grip of an economic crisis which has sparked angry protests across the continent.
The extraordinary decision was announced at a ceremony in Norway, where the five-member Nobel Peace Prize Committee said their choice was unanimous.
But with the Eurozone still in the grip of a financial crisis, sparking riots and civil unrest in several countries, and growing calls for the EU’s powers to be curtailed, the decision attracted immediate derision and ridicule as a 'late April fools joke'.
The European Union will receive the $1.2million dollar prize in December The prize is awarded by a panel of five people from Norway - which is not even a member of the EU. The committee said the EU was to receive the award for six decades of contributions 'to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe'.
Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said the committee did not want to focus on the 'grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest' but instead anted to recognise 'the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights'.
He added: 'The stabilising part played by the European Union has helped to transform a once torn Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.'
Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland today said the award was for the 'advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe'
Borne out of the Second World War and co-operation between France and Germany to pool coal and steel, Mr Jagland said war between the two countries now is 'unthinkable'.
He added: 'This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.'
The prize is awarded to those who ‘shall have done 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’.
It has courted controversy before, notably in 2009 when the prize was awarded to Barack Obama weeks into his first term as US President.
Tory MEP Dan Hannan said on Twitter: 'Like most people, I greeted the EU's Nobel Peace Prize with delighted laughter. First Al Gore, then Obama, now this. Parody is redundant.'
Previous winners of the Peace Price include the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Other recipients include Mother Theresa, Aun San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu and Michail Gorbachev.
The decision to honour the EU comes just days after protestors burnt Nazi flags on the streets of Greece in protest at a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Tory MEP Martin Callanan said: 'The Nobel committee is a little late for an April fools joke. 20 years ago this prize would have been sycophantic but maybe more justified. Today it is downright out of touch.
'Presumably this prize is for the peace and harmony on the streets of Athens and Madrid.'<,/p>
Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, said: 'It's a kind of interesting choice to give it to an acronym rather than a person but the idea of peace in Europe is something we should always celebrate and never forget.'
Former prime minister Tony Blair said: 'The European Union is one of the defining concepts of the last half century.
'Amidst the turmoil of today we would do well to remember that when the Second World War ended Europe was in ruins. What followed has been over 50 years of peace and progress.
'The rationale for Europe today has changed but the ideal of a Europe united and working together remains constant.'
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said on Twitter that he was 'deeply touched and honoured' be the decision.
He added: 'Reconciliation is what the EU is about. It can serve as an inspiration. The EU is a unique project that replaced war with peace, hate with solidarity.'
Douglas Alexander, Labour's shadow foreign secretary, said: 'The awarding of this Nobel prize reminds those who have forgotten that the history of the EU goes deeper than the story of the recent years of economic turmoil.'The EU has played a vital role in unifying a continent ravaged by wars, and from the Balkans to the Caucasus the EU has been central to efforts to resolving crises peacefully.'
Nigel Farage, who as leader of the UK Independence Party is one of Britain's leading critics of the EU, condemned the decision.
He said: 'You only have to open your eyes to see the increasing violence and division within the EU which is caused by the Euro project.
'Spain is on the verge of a bail out, with senior military figures warning that the Army may have to intervene in Catalonia.
'In Greece people are starving and abandoning their children through desperate poverty and never a week goes by that we don't see riots and protests in capital cities against the troika and the economic prison they have imposed.
'Rather than bring peace and harmony, the EU will cause insurgency and violence. The awarding of this prize to the EU brings it into disrepute.'
Eurosceptic Tory MP Bill Cash said: 'It is like giving an Oscar to a box office flop. It is very sad that the Euro establishment are so desperate to bolster the image of an institution, now ridden with riots and dissension, that it should be given this formerly prestigious prize.'