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And the latest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is ... the EU?

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The European Union has won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

The 27-member-states bloc won the famous award today for having contributed, during its six decades of existence, "to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said today.

Prominent recent Peace Prize winners include US President Obama in 2009 and Chinese human rights'activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010.

The EU's ability to maintain relative peace after World War II ravaged the continent has been recognised by the Nobel committee. It said:

In the inter-war years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made several awards to persons who were seeking reconciliation between Germany and France. Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality. The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe.

Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.

The Nobel-ers went on to point out how the union has grown to include the likes of Greece, Spain and Portugal in the '80s, with those nations having to agree to operating as democracies as a condition of their membership.

As the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, democracy sprouted in parts of central and eastern Europe, bringing a "new era" in the history of the continent, the committee noted.

The division between East and West has to a large extent been brought to an end; democracy has been strengthened; many ethnically-based national conflicts have been settled.

The committee also argued that the possible inclusion of Turkey as a member of the EU has helped that country to improve its human rights record.

The Nobel committee said the EU had turned much of the continent into a "fraternity between nations" even as it continues to battle "grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest".

The EU Commission's president Jose Manuel Barroso acknowledged the award by describing it as a "great honour for the whole of the EU, all 500 million citizens".

The award is worth approximately £747,000 or $1.2m, so those of our readers who are EU citizens can presumably expect a draft for approximately 0.15 pence or equivalent as soon as Brussels cashes its award cheque. ®

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