Ode to the maps of Europe

Den här texten skrev jag som en efterrapport till ett moderatorsuppdrag i december 2009.  Den är publicerad på hemsidan för CoR Coter Conference.

This text was written as a part of an assignment as moderator of CoR Coter conference in December 2009. It is published on the website of the conference.

Maps have always fascinated me. In my library at home I have several Atlases. The oldest is from early 30´es with the boundaries of a pre-WWII Europe. My first was given to me by my grandfather when I was eight. I recall how I could sit for hours and look at the rivers, the boundaries, the mountains, the cities and roads. I also much enjoyed other maps than the cartographical ones. Maps describing where iron ore, wheat and petrochemicals were produced combined with population density gave me understanding of some elements of society. Later my interest for history brought me in to the maps that described where the garrison of the Roman Empire lay, where the Crusade went and which areas who were deadliest struck by the Black Death.

Maps have helped me formed an understanding of Europe, its people, its history, its strengths and its weaknesses. Maps have sharpened my mind, built my knowledge and challenged my imagination.

In a broader sense maps define the politics and minds of people. What´s on the map is important, and what is left out is not relevant. Through this power you can change the whole discourse of debate.

When I was an EU-correspondent in Brussels I was annoyed by the EU-maps leaving out half of Sweden and Finland despite it said to describe the EU. Some areas were not worthy of being in the picture, not really a symbol of European unity…

If policy makers take decisions from a wrongly painted map you will, no doubt of that, have decisions taken without considerations of that area. The blank areas in the map will continue to be a terra incognita.

In the same way maps can be a tool to describe a reality forgotten by most, a way of showing your point without having to argue lengthy and asking for understanding. You know what they say about a picture – it says more than a thousand words. I had a couple of those moments during the CoR Coter Conference in Kiruna 14th of December.

It was when Mr Jean-Didier Hache, Executive-secretary for the Island Commission of the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime regions (CPMR) had his presentation. Map after map, describing Europe in a way that was new for me, came during the presentation.

There was particularly one map that I will forever carry with me. It was the one that placed my summer vacation island of Gotland in Finnish Karelia, close to Russian border.  I had also never imagined that the Dodecanese Islands was as distance as Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.  What Mr Jean-Didier Hache did was to present a map showing how distant the islands were in a lorry truck perspective. Imagine that you would drive a truck from Maastricht in the central of Europe at an average speed of 60 km/h traveling on the continental mainland. Compare this with the traveling time to one of the above mentioned islands, including waiting time in harbors and time on much slower ferries. What mr Hache and the CPMR did was taking the traveling time to the Dodecaneses from Maastricht and multiplied it with 60 km for each hour and then put a straight line from the starting point. Thus, you ended up to have the Dodecaneses somewhere in Yemen.

The map hereby introduced a comparison and a new understanding of both cost and time disadvantages that islands have to face when they compete with mainland Europe.

In March I will be a father for the first time. I can promise you that one of the books I will give in the future to my unborn child is a book of maps. I will do my best to find maps that can help sharpened the young ones mind, built knowledge and challenge imagination. I will be looking for maps that include all regions of Europe and describe the rich diversity, the possibilities and potentials that are ahead in the future.

Patrik Oksanen

Journalist and Assistant moderator at the CoR Coter Conference


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