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Nobel Peace Prize Brings Uneasy Grin to EU

(CN) - The Nobel committee awarded the 2012 Peace Prize to the European Union on Friday, drawing criticism from those still worried about the ever-growing financial strife and discontent there.

Europe's 60-year commitment to reconciliation and peace following World War II are heralded as the primary reason for the honor.

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy welcomed the award, speaking from Helsinki where he had been meeting with Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. "It is a recognition of the work of the European Union as a peacemaker," Van Rompuy said. "We were at war during centuries; we had two world wars that in fact were European civil wars. We put an end to this, and with the European Union wars of that kind cannot happen again anymore."

"So the European Union is really the biggest peacemaking institution ever created in world history, and we have still a mission of promoting peace, democracy, human rights - in the rest of the world," he added.

But the global economic crisis has created fissures in the EU, as evidenced by riots in Greece and Spain following Germany's continued insistence on austerity measures to resolve the euro crisis. Many former Soviet bloc countries - among the EU's newest members - also struggle with double-digit unemployment and mountains of government debt.

Nobel panel chairman Thorbjorn Jagland has reportedly expressed "deep concern" about the future of the EU.

"There is a great danger," Jagland told the New York Times. "We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization."

And while every branch of the massive EU government - from the council to the European Commission to the Court of Justice - lauded themselves for the prize, some European politician were less thrilled.

"First Al Gore, then Obama, now this. Parody is redundant," tweeted Daniel Hannan, a "euroskeptic" lawmaker in Britain's Conservative Party.

Obama won the prize in 2009 after less than a year in office, and Gore won in 2007 for his campaign to fight climate change.

Hannan has friends in euro-skepticism. The head of Britain's Independence Party, Nigel Farage, called for the United Kingdom to secede from the union and said the prize was "an absolute disgrace."

"Haven't they had their eyes open?" he asked.

Dutch legislator Geert Wilders agreed. "Nobel prize for the EU. At a time (when) Brussels and all of Europe is collapsing in misery. What next? An Oscar for Van Rompuy?" Wilders said, referring to the EU Council president.

While several European heads of state have offered muted statements of congratulations, representatives from Greece, Spain, Portugal and the eastern European countries have been largely silent on the prize. But Germany - the economic powerhouse of the region, and possible the band-aid holding the euro together - touted the peace and partnership that is the European Union.

"For over 65 years our continent is at peace," said Hermann Groehe, secretary of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party. "Former enemies are now close partners and friends. Today, Germany is surrounded only by friendly nations."

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