European and National Flags - AFP.
European and National Flags in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 4, 2005. Photo by AFP
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The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 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 Norwegian prize committee said the EU received the award for six decades of contributions "to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

"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," Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.

Awarding the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union Friday was "a message to Europe that we should do everything we can to secure what we have achieved and move forward," the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

Asked how the prize would be received in debt-ridden eurozone countries like Greece, Ireland and Spain, Thorbjorn Jagland said: "I have noticed that a big, big majority in all these countries are in favor of staying in the EU."

"This proves actually how important this union is for Europeans because of the [historic] background," Jagland told reporters, adding that the EU was "a great peace project."

Jagland said it was "up to the EU" to decide who would come to Oslo in December to accept the 8 million Swedish kronor (1.2 million dollar) prize and deliver the Nobel lecture.

The awarding of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was "a joy" for the citizens of its 27 member states, a German government spokesman said Friday.

Steffen Seibert said that Chancellor Angela Merkel had already conveyed her personal congratulations to Brussels following the announcement in Norway.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Friday that the Nobel Peace Prize was a "great honor for all 500 million citizens of Europe."

"It is justified recognition for a unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and the benefit of the world," he said.

"At its origins the European Union brought together nations emerging from the ruins of the devastating Second World War and united them in a project for peace built on supranational institutions representing the common European interest," Barroso said.

The award "shows that even in these difficult times, the European Union remains an inspiration for countries and people all over the world," he added.

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.