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He stressed that despite the crisis, all steps taken had been toward “more, not less integration.”

Mr. Van Rompuy was optimistic, saying that EU would come out of the crisis stronger than before.

“We want Europe to become again a symbol of hope,” he said.

The EU says it will donate the prize money to projects that help children in conflict zones and will double it with EU funds.

The European Union grew from the conviction that ever-closer economic ties would ensure century-old enemies such as Germany and France never turned on each other again, starting with the creation in 1951 of the European Coal and Steel Community, declared as “a first step in the federation of Europe.”

In 60 years it has grown into a 27-nation bloc with a population of 500 million, with other nations eagerly waiting to join, even as its unity is being threatened by the financial woes.

While there have never been wars inside EU territory, the confederation has not been able to prevent European wars outside its borders. When the deadly Balkans wars erupted in the 1990s, the EU was unable by itself to stop them. It was only with the help of the United States and after more than 100,000 lives were lost in Bosnia was peace eventually restored there, and several years later, to Kosovo.