Nor will it provide solace to the unemployed.

"For them, people may even think that this is cynical," said Paul De Grauwe, an economist with the London School of Economics. "If I were living in Portugal or Spain or Greece, I would be upset about it: 'They are giving this prize to these people in Brussels, and they are the source of my misery.'"

Still, there seems little doubt that the European Union has played a major role in bringing peace to a continent that had known precious little of it.

Growing out of the devastation of World War II, the premise of the project was that closer economic interdependence would ensure that centuries-old enemies never again turn on each other. The EU is now made up of 500 million people in 27 nations, with others lined up to join.

"If we ask Europeans anywhere, in any country, of any age, including the youngest ones, they can't imagine that there could be war in Europe today. It's over," said former French President Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, who was born in Germany, fought in World War II and drafted the first version of the EU constitution.

Jacques Delors, often dubbed Mr. Europe for his efforts as European Commission president to push toward greater unity in the 1980s and '90s, said the prize was "a great satisfaction for the founding fathers of Europe, and all the activists for the European cause over the years who tried to make progress on what was for them, at the outset, a dream."

"The European construction is a work of peace. It was meant to reconcile people," Delors said.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor congratulated the EU in a statement released Friday evening. "We have no stronger partner than Europe and are pleased to see it recognized for its achievements," he said.

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