Europe – a continent and its borders

Europa Karte Grenzen

Europe – a continent and its borders

In the context of the question, “What is Europe?” and especially in the search for a common European identity, Europe’s geographical situation and its multiple interpretations have been much debated.

What actually is Europe?

In the proper sense Europe is not a continent and the question of its borders has been and still is part of multiple controversies. Europe, – with its more than 10 million square kilometres,  is located on the Eurasian continental plate. While the physical borders with Europe’s seas in the north, west, and south traditionally give few grounds for technical dispute, in terms of the “Gateway to the Orient” it turns out to be more difficult. Nevertheless, the many ostensible undisputed European frontiers must be also questioned, for if water is a limiting criteria – in this case the seas – how about the many European islands?

In this train of thought, do they still belong to the European continent?

We soon notice that it is not that easy to agree on joint criteria for a determination of a continent, especially when one uses characteristics of natural space.

Frontier question Orient

The situation appears to be even more complicated if one also considers cultural (such as linguistic), or economic criteria. Thus it is very clear to see that borders are nothing static but rather something perceived and also something politically set.

That was particularly the case in the redefinition of the eastern border through Vassili Tatichtchev the geologist of the Russian Czar. He moved Russia closer to Europe – simply by shifting borders. Therefore the mountain ranges  of Caucasus and the Urals form Europe’s eastern borders. This fact is by no means a historical single case. The borders have drifted a number of times, following the way how one wanted to change the European image. Depending on whether Russia should be part or not part of Europe.

More recent considerations place the European border to the east European plain rather in the Caspian Sea basin, where the Ural River is located. Clearly the subject of European borders is not closed.

Europe’s overseas territories for example that derives from the colonial legacy of the E.U. Member States, like Curaçao, Greenland or French Polynesia. And anyway, is the E.U. Europe or is Europe the same as the E.U.? Norway and Switzerland would definitely protest if one did not call them European any more. Even the less than favourable Brits, apropos of the E.U., we cannot imagine them completely isolated on their island.

Europa – who are you?

The question is whether Europe is a physical location or a space of interaction. Above all, a European identity is formed by the people. Europe is a common living and economic space and a common currency area, but also a common history and culture. And these characteristics can be used to point out that Europe is neither united, nor common. For as it is difficult to define space and to draw borders, – each description offers more problems than solutions. However, that also reflects the character of Europe – in all its facets.

Europe is not a place. Europe is an idea.

For some Europe is also a project, an aim, a dream – and a challenge. Not only for geographers.