12/10/2012 12:18 BST

European Union's Nobel Peace Prize Hypocritical Say Nigel Farage And Eurosceptics

The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for the European Union has predictably deepened the divide between europhiles and europhobes.

The irony of the honour being bestowed in the midst of one of the EU's worst crises and at a time of deep rifts between major member states was not lost on anyone, including the EU's biggest supporters.

Cynics said the award is less about celebrating the past legacy of peace but more about delivering positive public relations when the EU needs it most.

The leader of Britain's Conservative Euro MPs Martin Callanan said the announcement came "a little late for an April fools joke".

He said: "Twenty 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. The EU's policies have exacerbated the fallout of the financial crisis and led to social unrest that we haven't seen for a generation."

The decision came in the week when German chancellor Angela Merkel faced Nazi salutes from angry Greek demonstrators when she visited strife-torn Athens to reject claims that the country was, economically at least, under German control once again.

And the news reminded everyone that the finance minister of Poland warned MEPs during a European Parliament debate last year that the economic and political crises could lead to war within 10 years.

Choosing to give the entire EU the Nobel Peace prize at such a time only undermines the point of the award, Mr Callanan claimed.

"The Nobel Peace Prize was devalued when it was given to newly elected Barack Obama. By giving the prize to the EU, the Nobel committee has undermined the excellent work of the other deserving winners of this prize. The Nobel committee is a little late for an April fools joke."

But the German president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz - once jokingly likened to a Nazi camp commandant by the then Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi - welcomed the acknowledgement of the EU's role in peace.

"It is a great honour that the EU has won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. This prize is for all EU citizens. We in the European Parliament are deeply touched," he said.

"The EU has reunified the continent through peaceful means and brought arch enemies together. This historic act of reunification has been rightfully recognised."

The values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are "absolutely fundamental" to the EU, he said.

"These fundamental values underpin all of the European Union's activities both internally and in our external policies. Several nations are freely negotiating accession to the EU, a sign that despite challenging economic conditions, the EU is a magnet for stability, prosperity and democracy."

EU principles and values of reconciliation could serve as an inspiration to other regions in the world, he said.

"From the Balkans to the Caucasus, the EU serves as a beacon for democracy and reconciliation."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the EU, far from bringing peace and harmony to Europe, is actually resulting in "violence and division" in euro nations like Spain and Greece.

Farage, whose party campaigns for the UK to leave the EU, 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 bailout, 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.

"The next stage is to abandon the nation state: the awarding of this prize to the EU brings it into disrepute.

"The last attempt in Europe to impose a new flag, currency and nationality on separate states was called Yugoslavia. The EU is repeating the same tragic mistake.

"Rather than bring peace and harmony, the EU will cause insurgency and violence."

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland acknowledged that the EU is facing "grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest".

But he went on: "The Norwegian Nobel committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.

"The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace."