When Norwegian Nobel Committee head Thorbjørn Jagland announced that the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize would go to the European Union, there were audible gasps in the room.

Critics have come out in force, arguing that a slow-moving bureaucracy wracked by austerity protests, sky-high unemployment and anti-E.U. sentiment is not especially deserving of the honor, which in the past has gone to human-rights visionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa.

View Photo Gallery: President Obama, the Dalai Lama, the guy who got the 1935 award for fighting to stop the rearmament of Germany. Not all the winners achieved peace at the time of the award . . . or ever. Many people are calling this year’s winner, the European Union, a real head-scratcher.

Twitter swiftly erupted in jokes about the E.U.’s win:

The Nobel Committee said it wanted to laud the E.U. for safeguarding peace and security in a continent saddled with a dark history of conflict, The Washington Post reported.

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

Jagland also brushed off the idea that Europe’s debt crisis makes it unworthy of the award:

“There are many things to say about the economic crisis — where it originated for instance,” he said. “It started in the United States, and we had to deal with it.”

It’s not the first time the Nobel committee has recognized an organization, rather than an individual. In 2001, the United Nations received the prize, and in 1998, the honoree was U.N. peacekeeping forces. Several times, the winner was the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Moments after the award was announced, European leaders said the prize should inspire member states to try to strengthen the Union during its most turbulent time in decades.

Deeply touched honoured that the #EU has won the #Nobel Peace Prize. Reconciliation is what the EU is about. It can serve as inspiration.

— Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) October 12, 2012