Critical Infrastructure: Europe’s vulnerability geography


The ‘European blackout’ of Saturday evening, 4 November 2006 was remarkable. In Northern Germany, close to the North Sea, a high-voltage transmission line had been purposefully shut down, and contingencies caused a second line to overload and shut down. As the electricity sought alternative pathways, more lines overloaded and switched off. Within 20 seconds the failure had cascaded to the Mediterranean. From Croatia to Portugal lights went out, and people were trapped in trains and elevators. Via the Spain-Morocco high-voltage cable the failure even hit Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

This rare blackout exposed Europe’s electrical infrastructure: a giant technological system, which in everyday life secures energy to households and professionals, silently and invisibly. It illustrates Europe’s “hidden” infrastructure integration: From the first half of the 19th century onward, a variety of transport, communication, and energy networks integrated (and, in other cases, fragmented) Europe—in more direct and mundane ways than the formal economic and political integration process that started a century later. Today, modern societies and economies have become so dependent on uninterrupted infrastructure services, that they remain highly vulnerable to infrastructure disruption. The term Critical Infrastructure (CI) spotlights this vulnerability.