10/12/2012 11:17 GMT | Updated 11/12/2012 06:23 GMT

European Union Nobel Prize: Five Reasons The EU Deserves To Win

The European Union has come in for a lot of stick for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, as southern European countries are declared near bankrupt, riots rage, the euro falters and more cash is demanded of the UK from the EU budget.

The expansion of the EU has sparked fears Britain will no longer be able to cope with EU immigrants, and the Tories look set to announce a referendum which could drastically change Britain's relationship with the union.

In 2011, a Guardian/ICM poll showed 49% would vote for UK withdrawal, and some 70% of voters want a vote on Britain's EU membership.

The EU won't be winning the Nobel Prize for Economics any time soon.

But as the crisis rages, the Nobel Prize draws attention to one of the EU's other major raison d'etres - security and peace between European nations, nations which have traditionally had long and bloody histories of conflict, conquest and rivalry.

So, perhaps controversially, here's five reasons the EU deserved its peace prize.

France, Germany and the UK are getting along just fine


France, UK and Germany are allies after centuries of conflict

Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland argued that European unification has transformed Europe “from a continent of wars to a continent of peace”

The English have been fighting the French since 1066 and the Norman Conquest, and involved in at least one war per century until the early 1800s. As part of the Holy Roman Empire, German states fought wars with England and France, and were occupied in the Napoleonic Wars.

The First and Second World Wars were two of the bloodiest conflicts in world history. But since the end of the war, and as economic co-operation deepened between the three, partly as a result of the EU, Europe's three bitter rivals have become closest allies, and bastions of freedom and prosperity (compared to elsewhere in the world).

Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations sums it up.

"You go to Europe today and you drive across the Franco-German border, and there are no soldiers, no border patrols, you don't even change money. And that's a miracle in some way."

Democracy in former fascist states


Italy's Benito Mussolini walks in the rain during the 2,698th anniversary of the birth of Rome

Spain, Portugal and Italy were all ruled by fascist dictators. In Spain under General Franco, around 200,000 people died from 1940–42, killed in uprisings, starving or diseased.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini became Adolf Hitler's most important ally, purging the country of any opposition, rounding up opponents, Jews and gypsies and sending them to concentration camps.

Democracy has flourished in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy since the fall of fascism and creation of the European Union, as prosperity increased.

It's an achievement of the EU thus far, but many commentators have expressed concern that may not last post-economic crisis.

The democratic transformation of Eastern Europe, post-Cold War


Poland has seen dramatic economic development

As the European Union accepts new members, it has meant countries who wish to join must "guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union."

All the Soviet states joining the EU have had to meet the criteria, which has led to particular prosperity, growth and freedom in countries like Poland, although growth has slowed considerably as economic crises rage in southern Europe.

You don't need a passport to go from Paris to Amsterdam, or a visa to move to Rome


You can live in an Italian vineyard, and no-one will check your visa

EU migrants are the cause of much consternation at home, but one of the benefits of the European Union has meant travel across the continent is a breeze, and something taken for granted here, compared to elsewhere in the world.

You can up-sticks and move to that Paris apartment, study art in Florence or retire to a Spanish villa without any special permission, as long as you can afford it.

In the Middle East, there are walls built between Israel and Palestine, troops line the Chinese- Indian border, the border between Algeria and Morocco remains locked. It's even a pain to get into the US.

In a world where territorial conflicts still rage, Europe feels like a haven of tranquility... comparatively.

The European Convention on Human Rights


You are guaranteed the right to protest against the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU

OK, so the European Court of Human Rights means we have to keep Abu Qatada in the country, for now. And, strictly, it's the remit of the Council of Europe, which is a separate body but closely linked to the EU.

But, long-term, the European Convention of Human Rights has meant states have to guarantee freedom of speech, expression, freedom of religion, ban capital punishment and give everyone a fair trial.

For a continent with a history of human rights abuses, from slavery to the Holocaust, ensuring certain freedoms has been key to maintaining peace.