The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 was awarded to the European Union (EU) for its six decades of contributions to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Friday.

"Since 1945, the reconciliation between Germany and France has become a reality. 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 committee said in a statement.

The EU was founded with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 as a community of six nations seeking greater economic integration. The bloc has expanded to 27 after the addition of east European states since the end of the Cold War.

However, the awading of the prize to the EU has come as a surprise to many, especially when two referendums, in 1972 and 1994, showed the Norwegians’ opposition to the EU, which they see as a threat to the sovereignty of the member states.

Norway is one of the very few Western European countries that is not a member of the EU.

“The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest,” the Nobel committee said in the statement. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace,” it said.

“The work of the EU represents a 'fraternity between nations,' and amounts to a form of the 'peace congresses,' to which Alfred Nobel refers as criteria for the Peace Prize in his 1895 will,” the committee said.