Many of us can, I am sure, remember where we were when we realized that the resplendence of the Nobel Prize had diminished. For some this realization can be traced to the news that Yasser Arafat had become joint recipient of the Peace Prize (an award of which he was never stripped). For others it will have been the announcement earlier this month that the award had been given to the EU.
The thinking behind this latest award appears to be the one you can hear among the political elite of Europe and which I was recently fortunate enough to hear pronounced by a British MP. It usually goes something like this: that without the EU the people of Europe would have spent the last seventy years happily massacring each other as they did throughout their past.
To believe this you have to believe a number of things. First you must believe that Europe's past was a particular aberration and peculiar to our continent. Second, your historical knowledge must be limited to some broad ideas about the twentieth century. Third, you must ignore the 1990s. Fourth, and finally, you must believe that this unique and innate viciousness of Europeans can best be solved by abandoning democracy.
You must believe, for instance, that you go to the people for their opinions as infrequently as possible, and only then to ask for more powers. You might do this by offering placebo referenda, the catch being that if people vote against awarding more powers to the elite (as they did in Ireland, France and Holland), then the people will be made to vote again until they come up with the right answer.
Such abandonments of democratic niceties has gone on at the EU supranational level now for years. The miracle of awarding the Nobel Prize to the EU in this year of all years, though, is that this is the year in which the EU has managed additionally to erase the democratic process at the national level.
For more than a decade, the Nobel Peace Prize has become ever-more narrowly a political prize. How otherwise to explain the obsession with rewarding US Democrat party leaders? Over the last decade alone three of them have been given the prize: Jimmy Carter in 2002, Al Gore for his slide-show presentation in 2007 and Barack Obama, for doing less, in 2009.
It is clear from these, among other awards, that the Nobel judging committee sees its role as pushing the United States in a peculiar and specific European direction. This latest award must therefore count as one of the worst-timed awards in the Nobel's history. The distinctly non-democratic Nobel committee has chosen to reward a project which began by subverting nation-state democracy but which now appears to be quietly going about the job of ending it.
Britain, for instance, signed up for membership in a "common market." What we have got, instead, is membership in an unaccountable super-state whose decisions and opinions now override our national laws, stripping us of sovereignty and such basic rights as deciding who should be allowed to come and live in our country. The final insult is that, presumably, there is deliberately no mechanism built into the system that allows our increasingly unnecessary national political leaders to extricate us from this situation. It is a "roach motel": in true totalitarian fashion you can enter but you cannot leave. The Soviet dissident, author Vladimir Bukovsky, refers to the unelected, unaccountable, irremovable group as the "EUSSR."
At the time of the award, most media focused on the unhappy visual juxtapositions that accompanied it. For at the same moment that the Nobel committee were making their announcement, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was being greeted in Greece by protestors dressed as Nazis. It was, indeed, a powerful blend of images, nicely suggesting that peace might not be all it's cracked up to be for the new prize winners.
But this was not the real story. As always, in an image-obsessed age it is far too easy to miss those things which are quietly going on all the time without any particularly dramatic illustrations.
It is now almost exactly a year since the EU parachuted in an unelected leader to run Italy. Italy's problems, like those of Greece, are by no means straightforward, but are certainly – though nobody much likes to say this – of its own making. Like Ireland, Britain and most of the rest of Europe, Italy and Greece, for years lived far beyond their means and now face the consequences. But in last year's appointment of Mario Monti to the head of the Italian government, the EU began to tread a path at the end of which is not simply a challenge to democracy but the end of it. Anybody who wants to see where the EU leads can see it now.
Unnoticed by anybody outside, mainstream Italian politicians have now given up on democracy. The leaders of centrist parties now concede that although they would like to remain in office, and although they intend to keep taking their salaries of thousands of Euros each month and do not intend to give up their chauffeur-driven cars, only Monti can run the place. In acknowledging this, Gianfranco Fini, and others, have shown that what they really want the trappings of office without its burdens. Government is no longer for democrats. Government is for unelected bureaucrats. As a result, even the process of democracy – elections for instance – become a mime-show, with the people putting themselves forward for election being those who themselves support unelected leaders.
Thus the EU, which began as an unelected and anti-democratic central authority (including an "EU Foreign minister" whom nobody in Europe ever heard of, let alone voted for) has become outwardly expressive in its habits: after decades of the EU being a non-democratic body, it now encourages non-democracy in others.
Why this has come about – why the elite have come to distrust the people of Europe so much that they now wholly side-step them – is a subject for another time. For now, a simple point needs to be made. Now that democracy has been suspended in Europe and in specific European countries such as Italy, does anybody know when it might be reinstated? Or who is proposing to begin the process?
The EU has not bothered considering that question. The Nobel committee do not know. If the latter had any decency they would make the collection of the award contingent on the recipient providing an answer to that question before it is too late.