Leaders of the European Union on Monday
accepted the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, paying homage
"to all the Europeans who dreamt of a continent at peace with
"In politics as in life, reconciliation is the most difficult thing," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in his acceptance speech, referring to how former enemies like France and Germany had managed to bridge differences.
Van Rompuy ended by paraphrasing US President John F Kennedy's famous words in 1963 at the Berlin Wall: "Ich bin ein Europaer. Je suis fier d'etre europeen. I am proud to be European."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, sitting next to each other, were among the 1,000 guests that included some 20 European heads of government and state at the ceremony in Oslo City hall.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU had moved from "pooling coal and steel, to abolishing internal borders" and had expanded from six to soon 28 members with the addition of Croatia in 2013.
"Today one of the most visible symbols of our unity is in everyone's hands. It is the euro, the currency of our European Union. We will stand by it," Barroso said.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the EU for its contributions for more than six decades to "the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights."
Although Europe is "undergoing great difficulties," the Nobel Comittee "has sought to call to mind what the European Union means for peace in Europe," committee head Thorbjorn Jagland said in his remarks.
"What this continent has achieved is truly fantastic. From being a continent of war to becoming a continent of peace," he said.
Jagland urged the bloc to "safeguard what has been gained."
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, accepted the prize - including a diploma and gold medal - together with Van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the 27-nation EU and its 500 million people but did not address the audience.
The EU said the prize money, worth 8 million Swedish kronor (1.2 million dollars), would be used for children in conflict zones.
The decision to award the EU raised criticism in some quarters.
Three former peace prize laureates, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, questioned the decision, writing in an open letter that the EU was "not 'the champions of peace' Alfred Nobel had in mind."
The peace prize is one of the awards endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. In accordance with Nobel's will, the peace prize is handed out in Oslo.
Later Monday, Chinese author Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 literature prize, and winners of the Nobel prizes for physics, medicine, physics, chemistry and economics received their awards at the Stockholm Concert Hall in the Swedish capital.
Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the US won the physics prize. The medicine prize was shared by John B Gurdon of Britain and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, while US duo Robert J Lefkowitz and Brian K Kobilka received the chemistry prize.
The economics prize, not one of the original prizes mentioned in Nobel's will, was shared by US economists Alvin E Roth and Lloyd S Shapley.
The Concert Hall and the City Hall, where a banquet was to be held after the award ceremony, was decorated with flowers from San Remo, Italy where Nobel died on December 10, 1896.
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