The first network of European geological surveys was established in Orleans, France in 1971 with the birth of WEGS (Western European Geological Surveys). This was an informal discussion group which was comprised of the Directors of its member organisations: the cluster of national geological surveys of Western Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. West Germany, rather than Germany, was a member and it was joined by a representative of the geological surveys of the Lander. At the time Greenland had a geological survey which was separate from that of Denmark.

Gradually WEGS Directors established a number of thematic working groups which encouraged staff to share experience and, on occasion, to develop joint projects.

In 1992, after 20 years of networking, WEGS published its first coordinated and comprehensive statement (Lumsden 1992) on behalf of its 21 members. Entitled “Geology and the Environment in Western Europe”, it was intended to demonstrate the types of issues to which geological surveys might contribute at the national and European scales. It succeeded in showing how geological surveys interact with government, industry and academia. The collapse of the Soviet system in the late 1980s had a major impact on the practice of geoscience across Europe. Geological surveys in western and central Europe took a greater interest in each other’s activities, wished to share experiences and aspired to cooperate with each other.

This effectively led to the transformation of WEGS into the Forum of European Geological Surveys (FOREGS), with the latter established by 1993.

The membership of FOREGS increased to over 30 by the mid-1990s, this rapid growth reflecting the desire of surveys in central and Eastern Europe to affiliate. A survey of these new members in 1995 indicated that they were pre-occupied with providing a comprehensive and balanced service at a time of diminishing resources and reducing staff members. They looked to FOREGS networking to increase the exchange of experience and ideas, as well as to participate in collaborative projects that might attract European funding. Many looked to FOREGS to promote the value of geological surveys, thereby enhancing their reputation and influence, as well as staff morale. But above all, new members wanted to participate in specialist working groups, with their potential for establishing and maintaining international standards. Most urgent in this regard was the need to transit to digital databases. In addition to information management, FOREGS had active working groups in remote sensing, geochemical mapping, marine and industrial minerals.

Not all Directors were equally pleased with the progress of FOREGS. Work had already started on the formation of EuroGeoSurveys which would focus on the need of European institutions and would effectively be limited to members of the European Union.

The objectives of the 16 constituent geological surveys which formed EuroGeoSurveys (EGS)
was as follows:

  • to jointly address European issues of common interest
  • to promote the contribution of geoscientists to EU affairs and action programmes
  • to assist the EU to obtain technical advice from members
  • to provide a permanent network of members and a common, but not unique, gateway to each member and their national networks

The pace of European integration accelerated the EGS agenda after the Millennium so that in practice the fears that new FOREGS members had of being excluded from the fast lane did not materialise. EuroGeoSurveys membership rose gradually to over 30 members and the FOREGS organisation, with its membership now served satisfactorily by the newer organisation, was allowed to lapse.

The new organisation quickly found its feet. With shorter meetings and quicker decision making, many saw improved benefits in participating. Once more thematic working groups were established and they were effective in bringing together the experts from the various surveys. Groups tended to focus on the implementation of specific European Directives, such as the Water Framework Directive, the Mine Wastes Directive and the Directive on Geological Storage of Carbon. Others were established for the specific projects of undertaking projects funded from European funds (such as in geochemical and seabed mapping). All of this brought cooperation to a higher level with individual surveys gaining important benefits.

Nowadays EuroGeoSurveys ambition is to become the recognised voice of European geoscience by providing public Earth science knowledge to support the EU’s competitiveness, social well-being, environmental management and international commitments.

In 2021, EuroGeoSurveys will celebrate “50 years of geoscience for society” promoting  the contribution of geosciences to European Union affairs and action programmes, and providing a permanent network between the Geological Surveys of Europe. For the occasion, EuroGeoSurveys Secretariat is planning a special celebration with a 50 years theme for gathering memories from past and current employees that illustrate EGS’s core values while discussing the latest global challenges and how the long-standing expertise of Geological Surveys and their history of trans-national cooperation can help provide answers to today’s and future scientific and societal questions and challenges through their extensive knowledge of the subsurface.