Western Europe

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Video taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the ISS on a pass over Western Europe in 2011

Western Europe is the western region of Europe. The region's extent varies depending on context.


The concept of "the West" appeared in Europe in juxtaposition to "the East" and originally applied to the ancient Mediterranean world, the Roman Empire (both Western and Eastern), and medieval "Christendom". Beginning with the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, roughly from the 15th century, the concept of Europe as "the West" slowly became distinguished from and eventually replaced the dominant use of "Christendom" as the preferred endonym within the region. [1] By the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, the concepts of "Eastern Europe" and "Western Europe" were more regularly used. [2] The distinctiveness of Western Europe became most apparent during the Cold War, when Europe was divided for 40 years by the Iron Curtain into the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc, each characterised by distinct political and economical systems. [3]

Historical divisions

Classical antiquity and medieval origins

Schism of 1054 (East-West Schism) in Christianity Expansion of christianity.jpg
Schism of 1054 (East–West Schism) in Christianity

Prior to the Roman conquest, a large part of Western Europe had adopted the newly developed La Tène culture. As the Roman domain expanded, a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces, which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization, and the western territories, which in contrast 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 Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire controlled the two divergent regions between the 3rd and the 5th centuries.

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, survived and even thrived for another 1000 years. The rise of the Carolingian Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe.

After 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 Carolingian Empire), the division between Roman Catholic and Protestant became more important in Europe than that with Eastern Orthodoxy.

In East Asia, Western Europe was historically known as taixi in China and taisei in Japan, which literally translates as the "Far West". The term Far West became synonymous with Western Europe in China during the Ming dynasty. The Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci was one of the first writers in China to use the Far West as an Asian counterpart to the European concept of the Far East. In Ricci's writings, Ricci referred to himself as "Matteo of the Far West". [6] The term was still in use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Christianity is the largest religion in Western Europe. According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 71.0% of Western Europeans identified as Christians. [7]

In 1054, the East–West Schism divided Christianity into Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity. This split Europe in two, with Western Europe primarily under the Catholic Church, and Eastern Europe primarily under the Eastern Orthodox Church. Ever since the Reformation in the 16th century, Protestantism has also been a major denomination in Europe, with Eastern Protestant and Eastern Catholic denominations also emerging in Central and Eastern Europe.

Cold War

Political spheres of influence in Europe during the Cold War; neutral countries (shaded gray or light blue) considered informally Western-oriented but not formally aligned to the West Europe-blocs-49-89x4.svg
Political spheres of influence in Europe during the Cold War; neutral countries (shaded gray or light blue) considered informally Western-oriented but not formally aligned to the West

During the four decades of the Cold War, the definition of East and West was simplified by the existence of the Eastern Bloc. A number of historians and social scientists view the Cold War definition of Western and Eastern Europe as outdated or relegating. [8] [9] [10]

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, the U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin.

Post-war Europe was divided into two major spheres: the Western Bloc, 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 popularized by Winston Churchill, who used it in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address on 5 March 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 economic systems. This division largely defines the popular perception and understanding of Western Europe and its borders with Eastern Europe.

The world changed dramatically with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. West Germany peacefully absorbed East Germany, in 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 full independence.

Western European Union

Member states of the Western European Union (1990-1995) Western European Union (1990-1995).svg
Member states of the Western European Union (1990–1995)

In 1948 the Treaty of Brussels was signed between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It was further revisited in 1954 at the Paris Conference, when the Western European Union was established. It was declared defunct in 2011 after the Treaty of Lisbon, and the Treaty of Brussels was terminated. When the Western European Union was dissolved, it had 10 member countries. Additionally, it had 6 associate member countries, 7 associate partner countries and 5 observer countries.

Modern divisions

UN geoscheme classification

Subregions of Europe by United Nations geoscheme.

.mw-parser-output .legend{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .legend-color{display:inline-block;min-width:1.25em;height:1.25em;line-height:1.25;margin:1px 0;text-align:center;border:1px solid black;background-color:transparent;color:black}.mw-parser-output .legend-text{}
Eastern Europe
Northern Europe
Southern Europe
Western Europe Europe subregion map UN geoscheme.svg
Subregions of Europe by United Nations geoscheme.
  Western Europe

The United Nations geoscheme is a system devised by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) which divides the countries of the world into regional and subregional groups, based on the M49 coding classification. The partition is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories. [11]

In the UN geoscheme, the following countries are classified as Western Europe: [11]

CIA classification

Regions of Europe based on CIA World Factbook:
Northern Europe
Western Europe
Central Europe
Southwest Europe
Southern Europe
Southeast Europe
Eastern Europe Europe subregion map world factbook.svg
Regions of Europe based on CIA World Factbook :
  Northern Europe
  Western Europe

The CIA classifies seven countries as belonging to "Western Europe": [12]

The CIA also classifies three countries as belonging to "Southwestern Europe":

EuroVoc classification

European sub-regions according to EuroVoc:
Northern Europe
Western Europe
Southern Europe
Central and Eastern Europe European Regions EuroVoc.png
European sub-regions according to EuroVoc:
  Western Europe

EuroVoc is a multilingual thesaurus maintained by the Publications Office of the European Union. In this thesaurus, the countries of Europe are grouped into sub-regions. [13] The following countries are included in the sub-group Western Europe: [14]

UN regional groups: Western European and Others Group

WEOG member and observer states UN WEOG members.svg
WEOG member and observer states

The Western European and Others Group is one of several unofficial Regional Groups in the United Nations that act as voting blocs and negotiation forums. Regional voting blocs were formed in 1961 to encourage voting to various UN bodies from different regional groups. The European members of the group are: [15]

In addition, Australia, Canada, Israel and New Zealand are members of the group, with the United States as observer.


Using the CIA classification strictly would give the following calculation of Western Europe's population. All figures based on the projections for 2018 by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. [16]

RankCountry or territoryPopulation
(most recent estimates)
1United Kingdom66,040,229 English London
2France (metropolitan)65,058,000 French Paris
3Netherlands17,889,600 Dutch, Frisian Amsterdam 1
4Belgium11,420,163 Dutch, French and German Brussels
5Ireland5,123,536 English, Irish Dublin
6Luxembourg602,005 French, Luxembourgish and German Luxembourg City
7Monaco38,300 French Monaco (city-state)

Using the CIA classification a little more liberally and including "South-Western Europe", would give the following calculation of Western Europe's population. [16]

RankCountry or territoryPopulation
(most recent estimates)
1United Kingdom66,040,229 English London
2France (metropolitan)65,058,000 French Paris
3Spain46,700,000 Spanish Madrid
4Netherlands17,889,600 Dutch, Frisian Amsterdam 1
5Belgium11,420,163 Dutch, French and German Brussels
6Portugal10,291,027 Portuguese Lisbon
7Ireland5,123,536 English, Irish Dublin
8Luxembourg602,005 French, Luxembourgish and German Luxembourg City
9Andorra78,264 Catalan Andorra la Vella
10Monaco38,300 French Monaco (city-state)

1The Hague is the seat of government [17]


European climate. The Koppen-Geiger climates map is presented by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and the Global Precipitation Climatology Center of the Deutscher Wetterdienst. Europe Koppen Map.png
European climate. The Köppen-Geiger climates map is presented by the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and the Global Precipitation Climatology Center of the Deutscher Wetterdienst.

The climate of Western Europe varies from Mediterranean in the coasts of Italy, Portugal and Spain to alpine in the Pyrenees and the Alps. The Mediterranean climate of the south is dry and warm. The western and northwestern parts have a mild, generally humid climate, influenced by the North Atlantic Current. Western Europe is a heatwave hotspot, exhibiting upward trends that are three-to-four times faster compared to the rest of the northern midlatitudes. [18]


Western European languages mostly fall within two Indo-European language families: the Romance languages, descended from the Latin of the Roman Empire; and the Germanic languages, whose ancestor language (Proto-Germanic) came from southern Scandinavia. [19] Romance languages are spoken primarily in the southern and central part of Western Europe, Germanic languages in the northern part (the British Isles and the Low Countries), as well as a large part of Northern and Central Europe. [19]

Other Western European languages include the Celtic group (that is, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Breton [19] ) and Basque, the only currently living European language isolate. [20]

Multilingualism and the protection of regional and minority languages are recognized political goals in Western Europe today. The Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages set up a legal framework for language rights in Europe. [21]


Western Europe is one of the richest regions of the world. Germany has the highest gross domestic product in Europe and the largest financial surplus of any country, Luxembourg has the world's highest GDP per capita, and Germany has the highest net national wealth of any European state. [22]

Switzerland and Luxembourg have the highest average wage in the world, in nominal and PPP, respectively. Norway ranks highest in the world on the Social Progress Index. [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Central Europe</span> Region of Europe

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Europe</span> Continent

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Warsaw Pact</span> International military alliance of Eastern European states (1955–1991)

The Warsaw Pact (WP), formally the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (TFCMA), was a collective defense treaty signed in Warsaw, Poland, between the Soviet Union and seven other Eastern Bloc socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe in May 1955, during the Cold War. The term "Warsaw Pact" commonly refers to both the treaty itself and its resultant defensive alliance, the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO). The Warsaw Pact was the military and economic complement to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), the regional economic organization for the Eastern Bloc states of Central and Eastern Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eastern Europe</span> Subregion of the European continent

Eastern Europe is a subregion of the European continent. As a largely ambiguous term, it has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic connotations. Its eastern boundary is marked by the Ural Mountains, whilst its western boundary is defined in various ways. Most definitions include the countries of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania while less restrictive definitions may also include some or all of the Visegrád group, the Baltic states, the Balkans and the Caucasus. A majority of nations situated in Eastern Europe are former socialist republics of the Soviet Union.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eastern Bloc</span> Former group of communist states aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War

The Eastern Bloc, also known as the Communist Bloc (Combloc), the Socialist Bloc, and the Soviet Bloc, was the coalition of communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America that were aligned with the Soviet Union and existed during the Cold War (1947–1991). These states followed the ideology of Marxism–Leninism, in opposition to the capitalist Western Bloc. The Eastern Bloc was often called the "Second World", whereas the term "First World" referred to the Western Bloc and "Third World" referred to the non-aligned countries that were mainly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America but notably also included former pre-1948 Soviet ally Yugoslavia, which was located in Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First World</span> Geopolitical grouping of the worlds most politically and economically stable nations

The concept of the First World was originally one of the "Three Worlds" formed by the global political landscape of the Cold War, as it grouped together those countries that were aligned with the Western Bloc of the United States. This grouping was directly opposed to the Second World, which similarly grouped together those countries that were aligned with the Eastern Bloc of the Soviet Union. However, as the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the definition largely shifted to instead refer to any country that boasts a well-functioning democratic system with little prospects of political risk, in addition to a strong rule of law, a capitalist economy with economic stability, and a high standard of living. Various ways in which these metrics are assessed are through the examination of a country's GDP, GNP, literacy rate, life expectancy, and Human Development Index. In colloquial usage, "First World" typically refers to "the highly developed industrialized nations often considered the Westernized countries of the world".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Soviet empire</span> Term for Soviet foreign policy before 1989

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cold War</span> Geopolitical tension, 1945 to 1991

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Southern Europe</span> Southern region of Europe

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Iron Curtain</span> Political boundary dividing Europe during the Cold War

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Western world</span> Countries with an originally European shared culture

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emigration from the Eastern Bloc</span> Movements of people during the Cold War

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eastern Bloc media and propaganda</span> State control of mass communications in the USSR and its European satellites

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Three-world model</span> Political concept of the Cold War

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