The State of the European Union

The European Union is an economic and political partnership between 27 European countries that together cover a large part of the European continent. As the EU website explains: “It was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries who trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict. The result was the European Economic Community (EEC), created in 1958, and initially increasing economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Since then, a huge single market has been created and continues to develop towards its full potential. But what began as a purely economic union has also evolved into an organisation spanning all policy areas, from development aid to environment. A name change from the EEC to the European Union (the EU) in 1993 reflected this change.
The Nobel Prize Committee recognised the achievements of the European Union by awarding the 2012 Peace Price to the projectfor over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe“. But in the shadow of the European debt crisis Europe appears less the united with Euroscepticism gaining momentum in some countries. A 2009 study by the European Commission “Portugal and Hungary (both 50%) and Latvia (51%) contain the fewest people who feel optimistic about the EU’s future. The UK (53%), Greece (54%) and France (57%) also record noticeably low figures” (see page 212 in the accompanying report). “Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom has been a significant element in British politics since the inception of the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor to the EU”, concludes a Wikipedia contribution, which reflects the emotional and often – in either way – dogmatic nature of the debate in the most skeptic members of the Union. The EU appears to have become a welcome recession scapegoat.
But what is the European Union anyway. Rather than an alien construct imposed on the member states, it still is the agreed structure set up by its member states (for the good or bad, that is). The following series of maps gives a brief introduction into some of the key figures that shape the countries that are part of the EU and who are about the meet for negotiations on how to fund the European Union for the rest of the decade – having crucial implications on the role and purpose of the project. All maps shown here are cartograms based on national-level statistics. The first map is a population cartogram of the member states showing where how many people live (a more detailed perspective gives this gridded population cartogram of the EU):

Cartogram / Map of the population of the European Union
(click for larger version)

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Art meets Science: Views of the Arab World

Arts-Science encounters‘ are much talked about but much less often put into practice (for their supposedly little economic benefit – not least in times of tight science budgets). Science and art are not such opposing worlds as we often see them today, as they were much less divided world in the past. As I wrote in my PhD thesis, “Cartography has always been connecting the worlds of art and science. McLuhan & Powers (1992) underline the importance of cartography by claiming that without the map ‘the world of modern science and technologies would hardly exist’ (McLuhan & Powers 1992, quoted from Thrower 1999: 1). One may not fully agree with this notion, but the importance of cartographic contributions to our understanding of the physical and social environments is hardly questionable.
More widely, science and art remain closely intertwined. From the view of science, this link is often to be found in the field of scientific visualisation. The exhibition Places & Spaces: Mapping Science for example “is meant to inspire cross-disciplinary discussion on how to best track and communicate human activity and scientific progress on a global scale” (see And where both worlds actively start to meet, the outcome can be a valuable contribution to a new perspective on research, as well as research can gain inspiring ideas for its own work. As stated in the Guardian, “the results [of such collaborations] can be seismic“.
Less seismic in a literal sense but not less inspiring have been some of the collaborations that originated from the Worldmapper project. Amongst these collaborations that I was involved in were the Story Map: What I Heard About the World by Sheffield-based performing artists Third Angel and the short film Sheffield – A City in Context by (again) Sheffield-based creative agency Human where we as academic geographers learned a lot about the approach artists take to see and explain our world.
A very different example of science and art encounters are the sculptures by Bay Area-based artist Jennifer Brazelton who came across my gridded population cartograms that I created as part of my PhD research and published online in the World Population Atlas. Here is an example of her work showing a sculpture based on the shape and structure of the gridded population cartogram of Syria, a country that made the most recent but also so far most lasting headlines in the events of the still so-called Arab Spring:

Sculpture and Gridded Population Cartogram of Syria
(click here for a full-size picture of the sculptureor here for the population map)

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The Population of the European Union

Europe appears to be far from being a perfect union these days, with many countries suffering severely from high debt levels as a lasting legacy of the financial crisis that brought the slowly shifting economic equalisation between East and West to a halt. In a symbolic move the Nobel Committee made the decision to award the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. It reflects a plea for European Unity which is seen as a great achievement for a continent where countries had repeatedly been at war for centuries. The Committee argues that the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe“. The European Union is a project to unite the population of the continent peacefully in all its diversity, a population which is shown in the following map. The map displays a gridded population cartogram of the EU27 member states without any borders drawn onto it. The map is as a reminder that here we really are all in this together regardless the place we live on the continent (and the islands surrounding it), instead of all against each other:

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Changing demographies of Germany


22 years after re-unification Germany has become an ‘accidental empire’ (Guardian) in Europe through its economic might. It is the largest economy in Europe and also happens to be the largest country by population. Germany has gotten into a political role that it seemed to be reluctant to take over ever since – in many regards the country is still seen as a reluctant power as Meier described it in a paper published in 1995 (today going much further than the role of the nation’s army). Post-unification Germany has been marked with many changes and the emergence of a reborn nation which stands in the centre of the future challenges of Europe. While the country struggles with a redefined role in Europe, its domestic challenges are appear equally tough: They are those of building a sustainable future for a rapidly changing demographic structure of society that is able to sustain a strong economic base. With a declining population, Germany may be smaller than France or the United Kingdom by 2060 if current trends were to continue (predicting future populations must always be seen with great caution – as some predictions from almost 50 years ago demonstrate quite well). Putting uncertainties about future trends aside, the question may also be whether a decline in population is a negative thing (and on the opposite, whether growing populations are bad either)? The pure numbers are less the problem, rather than the spatial and social implications that come with them.
Panic is never helpful for finding solutions, but look at what demographic changes are actually happening to find ways of dealing with it. The decrease of the fertility rate down to 1.36 children per woman in 2011 (according to the Federal Statistical Office) is already tackled with political measures (which may even already have first influences on the predicted trends as suggested by the MPG) and could lead to a changing trend – though probably not a reversal in the general trend of an ageing population (as reflected in the changing population pyramid of Germany). But most of the negative impact of demographic change in a spatial context have started with reunification in 1990 and lead to specific geographic problems that are the much more imminent for the country, as they led to a considerably changed population landscape:

Gridded Population Cartogram / Map of Population Changes in Germany between 1990 and 2015
(click for larger and more detailed version)

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High Speed 2: Connecting people

The British government announced a £9.4bn package of investment in the railways in England and Wales today, which – if it is realised as proposed – adds to the recent efforts to bring the motherland of rail transport up to the standards of many other countries around the world. The announcement comes in a year in which another major railway infrastructure project is widely discussed in the United Kingdom: “High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned high-speed railway between London and the English Midlands, Northern England, and potentially the central belt of Scotland” (see Wikipedia).
Phase 1 of HS2 has been discussed widely earlier this year, after the latest route plans from London Euston to Birmingham/Lichfield were proposed as part of the HS2 public consultation.
The detailed route proposal shows the geographical location of some of the most critical parts of the line that has some considerable opposition amongst various interest groups. While a high speed rail network requires space for the fastest legs of the journey – usually to be found in the countryside – the shorter parts of the line are not without problems either: As the line connects the most populous areas of the countries, it has to go through some densely populated areas as well, which are less visible on the overview maps of the project (another map is featured on the BBC website). The following map therefore takes advantage of the fisheye perspective of a gridded cartogram that shows the proposed HS2 (phase 1) route plotted on an equal population projection map. The map also includes the average speeds in an area, demonstrating the (obvious) slowdown effect of densely populated areas, mainly London and Birmingham as the main destinations that this line connects in the initial stage. The map also shows nicely how the fastest part of the journey squeezes through the least populated corridor between these areas, and it also gives an impression of ‘travel time’, i.e. where one spends much of the time in a high speed train. Its not the landscapes that fly past the window while travelling at highest speed, but the urban landscapes that one creeps along quite slowly when leaving and approaching the major cities:

Cartogram / Map of the proposed High-Speed 2 railway line in the UK
(click for larger version)

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Biodiversity hotspots – a world at risk

Lonesome GeorgeWith Lonesome George an international icon for conservation has died (although there are still chances that his subspecies of the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni) will continue to exist). The extinction rate of endangered species however remains high and some say may even be the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. Less controversially it can be stated that the current extinction rates are higher than one would expect without humankind’s influence, and that more action to preserve the environment is needed. Continue reading