The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday as it grapples with the worst crisis since its founding -- devastating debt and the threat of disintegration.
The prestigious award was a salute to the struggling 27-nation union for its work in promoting democracy and reconciliation since World War II.
Portugal -- as some member countries might be faced with dropping the euro, the EU currency.
The timing wasn't a coincidence.
"This is, in a way, a message to Europe that we should do everything we can and move forward," said Thorbjen Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a high European Council official.
"We want to remind all Europeans about what we have achieved on this continent and that we should not let it start disintegrating again and getting nationalism and extremism (to) grow on this continent, because we know what that leads to," Jagland said.
"It's also a clear message to other parts of the world where you have a number of conflicts; this is a good way of solving conflicts, namely getting countries (to) make trade with each other. ..."
The committee had "no ambitions" to save the euro, Jagland said, and "we don't have a position on how to solve the economic crisis."
But he stressed the importance of finding a solution to the EU debt crisis.
Others echoed support for the EU. The International Crisis Group, an organization committed to preventing conflict, said it is important to remember "historical perspective" during a period "when the EU is under tremendous day-to-day strain."
"The EU has been, above all else, one of the greatest conflict resolution mechanisms ever devised."
European economic troubles have reverberated across the world. The problems have hit American pocketbooks because of the billions of dollars in U.S. trade and investment in Europe.
Within the EU, disparities have persisted between economically strong members, such as Germany, which has fronted European bailout money, and economically weaker countries like Greece suffering from strict austerity measures and unemployment.
The longstanding animosities erupted Tuesday in Greece during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As many as 25,000 people angry about EU austerity measures championed by Germany took to the streets to protest.
In its announcement, the Nobel Committee said that the EU "for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."
Jagland singled out the peaceful reconciliation between Germany and France -- an amity forged between neighbors who fought each other last century.
"Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality," the committee said in a statement. "Today, war between Germany and France is unthinkable."
The committee also focused on the spread of democracy to newer member nations.
"In the 1980s, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU. The introduction of democracy was a condition for their membership," the committee said. All three countries saw dictatorships in the 20th century, even after World War II.
European Union Wins Nobel Peace Prize
Crisis Group calls EU "one of greatest conflict resolution mechanisms ever devised."
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