More than just the EU’s motto, “United in Diversity” describes what makes Europe unique and so attractive. Its 28 member states come in a vast variety of cultures, languages, landscapes and people, yet they all share the same commitment to key values, such as respect for human rights. In our series Frontiers of the EU, we take a look at some of the places illustrating how this enriches our continent, from beyond the ocean to the top of a mountain, from the bottom of the sea to outer space.
There is no airport at Rapa Iti and it takes 50 hours to get there by cargo ship from Tahiti. Boats travelling there are few and far between, making Rapa Iti one of the South Pacific’s most isolated islands, along with Pitcairn and Easter Island. Its dark and wild coast is overlooked by the forts of twelve ancient clans at the top of the sleeping volcano. Humpback whales can be seen from afar. But the people living in this slice of paradise are also EU citizens.
Perched between Brazil and Suriname lies French Guiana, Europe’s gateway to the galaxy. It might boast a majestic rainforest, but as a French territory it is still part of the European Union and even uses the euro as its currency. A space centre was located near Kourou more than 50 years ago to take advantage of French Guiana’s location close to the equator, meaning space rockets launched from here benefit from an extra velocity of 460 metres per second when they are launched eastward.
The alarm sounded at Forsmark, Sweden's second largest nuclear power plant, when one of the employees passed one of the radiation monitors on his way back from the restroom. When it showed high levels of radiation coming from his shoes, staff at first worried an accident had taken place at the power plant. However, a thorough scan discovered that the real source of the radiation was some 1,100 kilometres away in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl.
Rarely will people have been happier with the arrival of electricity. The launch of Vilnius's first-ever power plant was celebrated with a statue of the electricity goddess. This statue, now found in the centre of the city, was so popular that it featured in folk songs. After the power plant was decommissioned, people campaigned to have it recognised as national heritage and today it attracts many visitors as the Energy and Technology Museum.
Welcome to Nuorgam in Finland, the EU’s northernmost point. The sun kisses the monumental fells next to the small village, while stunted mountain birches push themselves through the snow. Spring is coming, but wind still gets under the clothes. It is in this beautiful setting that the Sámi live.
Every time Stephen McHale catches an egg-bearing female lobster, he makes a mark on the tail flipper to warn other fishers not to harvest it. It is a practice known as v-notching to protect local stocks and typical of the sustainable way McHale operates. “We fish to the market in that our seller, who just lives a few miles down the coast, knows what demand there is and we fish to satisfy that. So the market isn’t flooded with unwanted fish,” he explains.
Life in Europe
For the animals of the primeval Białowieża Forest, stretching from the north-eastern part of Poland into Belarus, there are no borders. Boars and wolves regularly make an appearance on both sides of the frontier. “Countries are walled off with solid fences, but animals dig under them and cross the border easily,” explained Karol Wojciechowski, who works on the Polish side in Białowieża National Park. Because of its unique biodiversity, the park is designated as a World Heritage Site.
Beyond the grey bulk of the Isle of Arran, 5,000 kilometres of Atlantic Ocean separate Britain from Northern America. Just a few hundred metres inland in Prestwick, Western Scotland, the Oceanic Area Control Centre (OACC) controls the airspace over the eastern half of the North Atlantic, from the Azores to a boundary with Iceland, getting airline passengers to and from Europe safely. It’s at the forefront of a revolution making flights in Europe shorter, greener and cheaper.
More than 2,000 years before the scientific means were developed to prove the existence of atoms, ancient Greeks already theorised about their existence. Their descendants continue to be at the forefront of scientific research as shown by the Nestor project in Pylos, in southwestern Greece. This involves creating an underwater telescope at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. It will track neutrinos in a bid to unravel some of the universe’s biggest mysteries.
It’s a 20-minute trip by cable car to reach the top of the Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix and as the cabins hiccups and swings with the wind, with 1,000 metres of void beneath, the view is breathtaking. But is Europe so pure and transparent as it seems from its highest point? European financial reform has certainly come a long way since the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.
Even at 83, there are still things to learn and teach. Every day Peter McMurdie helps Spanish people learn English in the quaint little town of El Barco de Ávila, 200 kilometres west of Madrid. “It’s an exciting and very rewarding experience,” explains the former BBC engineer from London. “I can understand Spanish quite well and I love learning foreign languages.” Like his students, he is discovering that acquiring a language is the key to discovering a new culture.
The Passerelle Mimram/Mimram-Brücke straddling the river Rhine at Strasbourg is one of the bridges joining two border regions that were once bitterly divided. Before the Alsace region was the stage for a series of bloody battles between France and Germany over who could rule this region. The guns have now fallen silent and locals are more than content to sample the best of what both countries have to offer in terms of employment, housing and education.
The bridge over the Danube between the Bulgarian city Ruse and the smaller Romanian city of Giurgiu is more than just a way to cross a large European river. Called the Friendship Bridge, it symbolises two countries rediscovering each other. It also marks where two of Europe’s alphabets meet. On the Romanian side the Latin alphabet holds sway, while on the Bulgarian side everything is expressed using the Cyrillic script.
The first ships have yet to arrive, but already there is plenty of activity amid the sand and the dunes. Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port, has just reclaimed 2,000 hectares of land from the North Sea to expand its gateway by a staggering 20%. Reduced to rubble during the Second World War, Rotterdam quickly blossomed in the following decades thanks to the gradual reduction of trade barriers between members of the European Union.