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Western Europe is the collection of countries in the westernmost region of Europe, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a cultural entity—the region lying west of Central Europe. Another definition was created during the Cold War and used to describe the non-Communist states of Europe; as a result, geographically central and eastern countries that steered clear of Soviet influence during the Cold War are usually included, while Western members of the former Eastern Bloc are excluded.

In addition, the term has geographic, economic and cultural aspects. Since the end of World War II, the term has been used to describe the high-income developed countries of western Europe, characterized by democratic political systems, mixed economies combining the free market with aspects of the welfare state, alliance with the United States, and membership in NATOmarker. However, the political definition is becoming outdated as these characteristics are not special to Western Europe any more.

Classical antiquity and medieval origins

As Roman domain expanded a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization. In contrast, the western territories largely adopted the Latin language. This cultural and linguistic division was eventually reinforced by the later political east-west division of the Roman Empire

The division between these two was enhanced during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by a number of events. The Western Roman Empire collapsed starting the Early Middle Ages. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire, mostly known as Greek or Byzantine Empire, managed to survive and even to thrive for another 1000 years. The rise of the Frankish Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism that formally divided Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe.

The conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Frankish Empire) led to a change of the importance of Roman Catholic/Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox concept in Europe.

Western Europe's significant historical events include the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther and the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. During the final stages of World War II the future of Europe was decided between the Allies in the 1945 Yalta Conferencemarker, between the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Unionmarker, Joseph Stalin.

Post-war Europe would be divided into two major spheres: the West, influenced by the United States, and the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union. With the onset of the Cold War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain.

This term had been used during World War II by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and later Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk in the last days of the war; however, its use was hugely popularised by Winston Churchill, who used it in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address March 5, 1946 at Westminster Collegemarker in Fulton, Missourimarker:

Although some countries were officially neutral, they were classified according to the nature of their political and economical systems. This division has largely defined the popular perception and understanding of Western Europe and its borders with Eastern Europe till this day.

Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe, in the view accepted after the second World War, was mainly composed of all the European countries occupied by the Soviet army. It included the German Democratic Republicmarker, widely known as East Germany, formed by the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. All the countries in Eastern Europe had Communist regimes imposed upon them. Most of these countries were officially independent from the Soviet Union, but the practical extent of this independence was quite limited. In some matters many of them were little more than client-state of the Soviet Union.

Currently, the borders of Eastern Europe are a topic of debate, especially because of the countries and people of Western culture, identifying themselves with Central Europe.

  • The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker (formed after World War II and before its later dismemberment) was not a member of the Warsaw Pact. It was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organization created in an attempt to avoid being assigned to any of the two blocs. It was demonstratively independent from the Soviet Union for most of the Cold War period, but because of its communist regime it was widely regarded part of the Eastern/communist bloc.

  • Albaniamarker broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s as a result of the Sino-Soviet split, aligning itself instead with China. Despite this, it had a communist regime and thus was considered part of the Eastern/communist bloc.

Western Europe

At the end of World War II almost all the countries of Western Europe received economic assistance from the United States through the Marshall Plan. Later, most joined NATOmarker and/or the European Community or its rival, the European Free Trade Association.

Western Europe is composed of:

  • Austriamarker and Switzerlandmarker were also special cases. Austria had been incorporated into Nazi Germany through the Anschluss before the war, while Switzerland had remained neutral throughout the war. After the war both of them remained neutral, in the case of Austria through the Austrian State Treaty. Austria eventually joined the European Union but not NATO. Switzerland declined membership of NATO and the European Union but did join EFTA.

Later political developments

The world changed dramatically with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the Democratic Republic of Germany, leading to the German reunification. COMECON and the Warsaw Pact were dissolved, and in 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Several countries which had been part of the Soviet Union regained their full independence.

Although the term Western Europe was largely defined of the Cold War, it still remains much in use. The term is commonly used in the media and in everyday use both in "western" and other regions of Europe.

Western Europe has increasingly less to do with the European Union. The 1995, 2004, and 2007 enlargements saw many post-communist countries joining the EU, and a view that Europe is divided strictly into the West and the East is sometimes considered patronising or pejorative by many in the countries of Central Europe .

Present time

Definition used by the United Nations Statistics Division

[[Image:Europe subregion map UN geoschme.svg|right|thumb|250px|Contemporary statistical regions of Europe as delineated by the United Nations (UN definition of Western Europe marked light blue):

The United Nations Statistics Division considers Western Europe to consist of the following nine countries, except in the case of United Nations Regional Groups, in which the term also includes northern and southern Europe:

However, it should be noticed that this statistical division was designed during the Cold War period. According to the UN Statistics Division, the assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations.

Population of Western Europe

Countries of Western Europe as defined by the National Geographic Societymarker.
Name of country, with flag Population

(2009 est.)

(2000 est.)
-/+ of Population Percent change Capital
Austriamarker 8,355,260 8,002,186 353,074 4.33% Viennamarker
Belgiummarker 10,665,867 10,296,350 369,517 3.46% Brusselsmarker
Denmarkmarker 5,511,451 5,330,020 181,431 3.30% Copenhagenmarker
Finlandmarker 5,244,749 5,167,486 77,263 1.58% Helsinkimarker
Francemarker 64,351,000 60,537,977 3,813,023 6.03% Parismarker
Germanymarker 82,002,356 82,163,475 -161,119 -0.11% Berlinmarker
Icelandmarker 319,368 279,049 40,319 12.73% Reykjavíkmarker
Irelandmarker 4,465,540 3,777,763 687,777 15.51% Dublinmarker
Italymarker 60,053,442 56,923,524 3,129,918 5.32% Romemarker
Luxembourgmarker 493,500 433,600 59,900 12.24% Luxembourgmarker
Netherlandsmarker 16,486,587 15,863,950 622,637 3.88% Amsterdammarker
Norwaymarker 4,799,252 4,478,497 320,755 6.79% Oslomarker
Portugalmarker 10,627,250 10,195,014 432,236 4.17% Lisbonmarker
Spainmarker 46,661,950 40,049,708 6,612,242 12.71% Madridmarker
Swedenmarker 9,256,347 8,861,426 394,921 4.37% Stockholmmarker
Switzerlandmarker 7,700,202 7,164,444 535,758 7.06% Bernmarker
United Kingdommarker 61,634,599 58,785,246 2,849,353 4.73% Londonmarker
Total 397,475,574 378,309,715 19,519,387 4.82%

See also

References and notes

  • The Making of Europe, ISBN 0-14-015409-4, by Robert Bartlett
  • Crescent and Cross, ISBN 1-84212-753-5, by Hugh Bicheno
  • The Normans, ISBN 0-7524-2881-0, by Trevor Rowley
  • 1066 The Year of the Three Battles, ISBN 0-7126-6672-9, by Frank McLynn

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