Written by Philippe Perchoc
Yves Lacoste, the father of modern French geopolitics, is famous for saying that ‘geography is above all else useful in waging wars‘. Is this also the case with cartography? The EPRS has used maps as a means of explaining its research since its launch in 2013. However, map-designers face some tricky choices: colours can be political, borders can be contested, and information not shown is, in itself, information. In this context, the drawing and use of maps by the European institutions can usefully be debated.
On 16 September 2015, the cartographer Philippe Rekacewiz accepted EPRS’ invitation to give a presentation on the difficulties of map making. Taking examples from his long experience as a map-designer for Le Monde Diplomatique and various international institutions, he explained how borders and names can be subject to heated controversy, be it in Ukraine, Morocco, the Caucasus or the Middle-East. These controversies sometimes create turbulence in the EU’s relationship with its international partners, but can also lead to some internal issues, such as Kosovo, which is not recognised by all EU Member States. He also shared his views on colours, taking Russia as an example. Since World War I, European map-designers have traditionally displayed the USSR in red or in pink, colours that Soviet cartographers, on the other hand, avoid. Is it possible to choose the colour green for a map of Russia today? Stereotypes naturally make for more straightforward understanding, but they also reproduce an ideological view of the world represented.
Giulio Sabbati, statistician with EPRS, explained how the institution is building an EPRS-approach to maps and charts, particularly on design issues like colours, borders, and gender. EPRS already offers a library of 127 maps and 687 charts, used in past briefings and documents, to support the parliamentary work of the Members of the European Parliament. All of them are accessible and reusable for free from the EPRS Graphic Warehouse.
Rather than read a long article, why not access the actual maps that animated the debate?