This video was taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the ISS on a pass over Western Europe.

This video was taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the ISS on a pass from Western Europe to central India.

Western Europe is the region comprising the westerly countries of Europe. While the term has a geographic context, another main definition developed during the Cold War (approx. 1945-1991) to describe the countries associated with the Western European Union (1954–2011; now part of the European Union (EU)), a defensive alliance drafted in 1948 among non-communist European nations during the Cold War, as opposed to the countries of the Eastern Bloc (or Warsaw Pact). Countries culturally and geographically associated with other European regions that steered clear of Soviet influence during the Cold War are usually included, while western members of the former Eastern Bloc (with the exception of Eastern Germany) are excluded.

Countries described as Western European are invariably high-income developed countries, characterized by democratic political systems, mixed economies combining the free market with aspects of the welfare state, and most are members of NATO and the EU.

The United Nations (UN) Statistics Division considers Western Europe to consist of just nine countries, although the United Nations Regional Groups include European countries from the UN-designated Northern and Southern Europe in its Western European and Others Group.


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 the 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.

Cold War[]

During the final stages of World War II the future of Europe was decided between the Allies in the 1945 Yalta Conference, between the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin.

Post-war Europe would be divided into two major spheres: the West, influenced by the United States, and the Eastern Bloc, influenced 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 College in Fulton, Missouri:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

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.

Modern political developments[]

The world changed dramatically with the fall of the "Iron Curtain" in 1989. The Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the German Democratic Republic, 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 a term 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.

United Nations[]

Europe subregion map UN geoschme

Regions used for statistical processing purposes by the United Nations Statistics Division (Western Europe highlighted in cyan):

  Western Europe

The United Nations Statistics Division published in 2011 considers Western Europe to consist of the following nine countries,[1] except in the case of United Nations Regional Groups, in which the term also includes northern and southern Europe:

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.[2]

Population of Western Europe[]

CIA Western-Europe-map2

Western Europe according to CIA, Encyclopædia Britannica, Brockhaus Encyclopedia, Encarta Encyclopedia, Columbia Encyclopedia, and the BBC

Population of various countries that were commonly referred to as "Western Europe" between World War II and the fall of communism in Europe.[3]

Country Population
(2011 est.)
(2000 est.)
-/+ of Population Percent change Capital
Flag of Austria Austria 8,414,638 8,002,186 412,452 4.90% Vienna
Flag of Belgium (civil) Belgium 11,007,020 10,296,350 710,670 6.45% Brussels
Flag of Denmark Denmark 5,564,219 5,330,020 234,019 4.20% Copenhagen
Flag of Finland Finland 5,388,417 5,167,486 220,931 4.10% Helsinki
Flag of France France 65,821,885 60,537,977 5,283,908 8.02% Paris
Flag of Germany Germany 81,799,600 82,163,475 -363,875 -0.44% Berlin
Flag of Greece Greece 10,787,690 10,964,020 -176,330 -1.63% Athens
Flag of Iceland Iceland 318,452 279,049 39,403 12.37% Reykjavík
Flag of Ireland Ireland 4,581,269 3,777,763 803,506 17.53% Dublin
Flag of Italy Italy 60,681,514 56,923,524 3,757,990 6.19% Rome
Flag of Luxembourg Luxembourg 511,840 433,600 78,240 15.28% Luxembourg
Flag of the Netherlands Netherlands 16,699,600 15,863,950 835,650 5.00% Amsterdam
Flag of Norway Norway 4,989,300 4,478,497 510,803 10.23% Oslo
Flag of Portugal Portugal 10,647,763 10,195,014 452,749 4.25% Lisbon
Flag of Spain Spain 46,030,111 40,049,708 5,980,401 13.00% Madrid
Flag of Sweden Sweden 9,415,570 8,861,426 554,144 5.88% Stockholm
Flag of Switzerland Switzerland 7,866,500 7,162,444 704,056 8.95% Bern
Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom 62,262,000 58,785,246 3,476,754 5.58% London
Total 412,787,386 389,273,735 23,513,651 5.70%

See also[]

  • Terrestrial globeGeography portal
  • Europe green lightEurope portal



External links[]

Template:Europe topics (small)

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