The crisis-torn European Union has been bestowed with this year's Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has announced.
The EU and its predecessors "have over six decades contributed to peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights", Thorbjoern Jagland, the Nobel Committee president, said on Friday in Oslo.
“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,'' Jagland said.
He praised the 27-nation EU for rebuilding after World War II and for its role in spreading stability after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
The award comes at a time when the 27-member bloc finds itself in turmoil brought on by the deep eurozone crisis.
Norway, which hosts the Nobel Peace Prize, is not a member of the EU, and 75 per cent of its population are opposed to joining the block, according to recent polls.
The decision by the five-member panel, led by Jagland who is also Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, was
The EU won from a field of 231 candidates including Russian dissidents and religious leaders working for Muslim-Christian reconciliation.
The winner will receive the prize, consisting of a Nobel diploma, a gold medal and $1.2m at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Swedish industrialist and prize creator Alfred Nobel's death.
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 organisation that other European countries could join.
Initially six - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - the EU totalled 15 members in 2004 when it embraced the first of the former Soviet states stranded for half a century behind the Iron Curtain.
The president of the European Parliament welcomed the award, saying it recognised post-war reconciliation in Europe and would serve as an inspiration.
"(We are) deeply touched and honoured that the EU has won the Nobel Peace Prize," Martin Schulz said in a statement distributed on Twitter.
Last year's prize was split between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot "peace warrior" Leymah Gbowee and Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman.
The 2012 Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature have already been announced. The economics prize, which is not an original Nobel but was created by the Swedish central bank, will be announced on Monday.