Image: A picture taken on March 25, 1957 in Rome shows foreign affairs ministers signing the treaties creating the European Economic community (EEC) and the Euratom.
AFP - Getty Images, file
A picture taken on March 25, 1957 in Rome shows foreign affairs ministers signing the treaties creating the European Economic Community (EEC), forerunner of the European Union, and Euratom.
NBC News and news services
updated 10/12/2012 7:12:34 PM ET 2012-10-12T23:12:34

The European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for its efforts to promote peace and democracy in Europe, in the midst of the union's biggest crisis since its creation in the 1950s.

The award was given to the 27-nation bloc because it had "for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe," Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.

The committee praised the EU not only for rebuilding after World War II, but also for its role in spreading stability to former communist countries after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

"The stabilizing part played by the European Union has helped to transform a once torn Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace," Jagland said.

The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz responded to the Norwegian Nobel Committee announcement on Twitter, saying that the "EU is an unique project that replaced war with peace, hate with solidarity."

"Deeply touched honoured that the EU has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Reconciliation is what the EU is about. It can serve as inspiration," he tweeted.

Read the committee's full statement here

Read more on the European Union's peacekeeping operations here

The EU rose from the ashes of World War II, born of the conviction that ever closer economic ties would make sure that century-old enemies never turned on each other again.

The idea began to take on a more defined shape when, on May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed that France and the Federal Republic of Germany pool their coal and steel resources in a new organization that other European countries could join.

April fools joke?
Some in Europe greeted the announcement with derision.

"The Nobel committee is a little late for an April fool's joke. Twenty years ago this prize would have been sycophantic but maybe more justified. Today it is downright out of touch," Martin Callanan, the leader of the Eurosceptic Conservatives and Reformist Party in the European Parliament, told Reuters.

"Presumably this prize is for the peace and harmony on the streets of Athens and Madrid," he added sarcastically, in reference to the EU-backed economic austerity programs that have prompted sometimes violent protest in parts of Europe.

Thousands of Greeks protest Angela Merkel visit

"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," Callanan said.

Others, however, praised the decision.

"This is great timing," professor Friedrich Heinemann, EU expert at the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim, Germany told NBC News.

"I believe the Nobel Peace Prize is a helpful recognition for an institution that offers a solid framework for solutions to the present conflicts in Europe," he said.

"The European Union has created a form of stability and peace in Europe, which also provides the basis for economic stability in Europe," he added.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said an hour before the announcement that the EU would win.

The prize, worth $1.2 million, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10.

Related stories:

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Cyberspace: the world’s next battlefield?

  1. Closed captioning of: Cyberspace: the world’s next battlefield?

    >>> and when the secretary of defense warns of a possible pending attack, it gets our attention. and this one just did, the new warning of the consequences of a cyber attack by iran that could create trouble in this area. our report.

    >> reporter: it is predicted that cyber space will be the world's next big battle field. but defense secretary leon panetta warned that the threat of a defense cyber attack against america is already here.

    >> the corrective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber pearl harbor .

    >> reporter: panetta warned that cyber attackers have tried to shut down america's critical infrastructure , power, water, transportation and major financial institutions .

    >> such a destructive cyber terrorist attack could virtually paralyze the nation.

    >> reporter: while russia and china are prime suspects, for the first time u.s. officials blame iran for the recent jump in cyber attacks. officials tell them iran was around the recent attempts to disable the website to several u.s. banks. those attacks failed, but another attack nearly shut down saudi arabia 's oil production . using a website, they destroyed 30,000 computers. experts say this complex attack should be a warning to the u.s.

    >> we do not have the proper level of security within the financial sector or the oil and gas sector, or any of our critical oil structures.

    >> reporter: officials say if they pose a threat, the u.s. could launch their own cyber attack to shut down iran 's cyber system. but they warn it is a battlefield filled with many enemies, and that the u.s. and others must do more to combat this threat.

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