The main European Union institutions, as well as the Council of Europe, award a wide variety of prizes each year. Perhaps best known is the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought created by the European Parliament in 1988 to recognise international figures or organisations defending human rights. Named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and worth € 50,000, the prize is awarded each October by the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents and presented in the plenary each December. Individual MEPs and political groups make nominations that are short-listed by the Parliament’s foreign affairs and development committees. Past winners have included Nelson Mandela (1988), Aung San Suu Kyi (1990) and Cuban dissidents ‘Ladies in White’ (2005).

More recently, the Parliament has also established annual European cinema, youth, journalism and citizens’ prizes. The ‘Prix Lux’ cinema prize was awarded for the first time in October 2007, with individual Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voting on films short-listed by an expert panel. Since April 2008, the European Charlemagne Youth Prize, awarded jointly with the organisers of the long-established Charlemagne Prize of Aachen, has recognised international projects designed to bring young people together in a European context. The European Journalism Prize, first awarded in 2008, acknowledges high-quality reporting of EU issues and institutions in the various media. Each year, the European Citizen’s Prize, initiated in 2009, allows the cross-frontier work of 50 EU citizens, nominated by individual MEPs, to be recognised with a special medal.

Traditionally, the principal donor of prizes at EU level has been the European Commission, whose awards largely reflect policy areas it seeks to promote. In the research and development field, for example, the Commission has sponsored an annual contest for young scientists (since 1988) and it awards the Descartes prizes for research (2000) and science communication (2004). In the field of cultural policy, it organises prizes for contemporary architecture (1988) and cultural heritage (2002), and has more recently created new prizes for contemporary music (2008) and literature (2009), organised under the Culture 2007 programme. Since 1994, it has awarded an annual Lorenzo Natali prize for journalism (defending human rights, democracy and freedom of speech), named after a former Italian Vice-President of the Commission. The institution also makes awards in the fields of sustainable energy and e-government (2005).

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe awards a Human Rights Prize every second year, as well as annual or biennial prizes to museums, local authorities and nature conservation and drug prevention projects. A ‘European Schools Day’ prize rewards essays and artwork from school children on a European theme, attracting up to two million entries each year.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry


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