Centre of Europe

The geographic central point of the European Union shifts with each enlargement, and in recent years has moved significantly eastwards. On the basis of calculations made by the French Institut géographique nationale (IGN) since 1987, the mid-point of the Union is currently located in a field just outside the town of Gelnhausen in Hesse, Germany. Previous ‘centres of Europe’ were Saint-André-le-Coq in the Auvergne, France (for the EU 12 before German reunification), Saint-Clément 25 kilometres to the northeast (for the EU 12 after that date), Viroinval in Belgium (for the EU 15), and Kleinmaischeid in Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany (for the EU 25). Although the last of these only enjoyed the honour for 32 months, from May 2004 to December 2006, it installed a set of giant calipers to mark the spot.

The most extreme points of the mainland EU (on the land-mass of the European continent) are currently Nuorgam in Finland (north), Punta de Tarifa in Spain (south), Virmajärvi in Finland (east) and Cabo da Roca in Portugal (west). If the islands of the Union – notably Cyprus, the Canary Islands and the Azores – are taken into account, the respective points are Nuorgam in Finland (north), Gavdos, in Crete, Greece (south), Cape Grecoin Cypus (east) and Fajä Frande in the Azores,Portugal(west).

Taking the extent of the European continent as a whole – a less clear-cut notion than where the boundaries of the European Union lie – a variety of towns have staked claims over time to be at the ‘centre of Europe’, depending on which countries are included and whether outlying islands are taken into account. Various markers are to be found, for example, in Suchowola inPoland, Krahule inSlovakia, and Dilove in theUkraine. In 1989, an IGN geographer calculated ‘the centre of gravity of the geometrical figure of Europe’ as lying near Purnuškés inLithuania. An elegant white granite column topped by a crown of golden stars was erected at this spot in 2004.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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