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Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background.
MottoUnited in diversity[1][2][3]
AnthemOde to Joy[2] (orchestral)
An orthographic projection of the world, highlighting the European Union and its Member States (green).
Political centres Brussels
Official languages
Demonym European[4]
 -  Commission José Manuel Barroso
 -  Council of Ministers Spain
 -  European Council Herman Van Rompuy
 -  Parliament Jerzy Buzek
 -  Paris Treaty 23 July 1952 
 -  Rome Treaty 1 January 1958 
 -  Maastricht Treaty 1 November 1993 
 -  Lisbon Treaty 1 December 2009 
 -  Total 4,324,782 km2 
1,669,807 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 3.08
 -  2010 estimate 501,259,840[5] 
 -  Density 115.9/km2 
300.2/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 (IMF) estimate
 -  Total $15.247 trillion 
 -  Per capita $30,513 
GDP (nominal) 2008 (IMF) estimate
 -  Total $18.394 trillion 
 -  Per capita $36,812 
Gini (2009) 30.7 (EU25)[6] (High) 
HDI (2007) 0.937 (High) 
Time zone (UTC+0 to +2)
 -  Summer (DST)  (UTC+1 to +3[7])
Internet TLD .eu[8]
Calling code See list

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states,[9] located primarily in Europe. Committed to regional integration,the EU was established by the Treaty of Maastricht on 1 November 1993 upon the foundations of the European Communities.[10] With over 500 million citizens,[11] the EU combined generates an estimated 30% share (US$ 18.4 trillion in 2008) of the nominal gross world product and about 22% (US$15.2 trillion in 2008) of the PPP gross world product.[12]

The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws which apply in all member states, ensuring the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital.[13] It maintains common policies on trade,[14] agriculture, fisheries[15] and regional development.[16] Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro, constituting the Eurozone. The EU has developed a limited role in foreign policy, having representation at the World Trade Organization, G8, G-20 major economies and at the United Nations. It enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, including the abolition of passport controls by the Schengen Agreement between 22 EU and 3 non-EU states.[17]

As an international organisation, the EU operates through a hybrid system of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism.[18][19][20] In certain areas, decisions are made through negotiation between member states, while in others, independent supranational institutions are responsible without a requirement for unanimity between member states. Important institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The European Parliament is elected every five years by member states' citizens, to whom the citizenship of the European Union is guaranteed.

The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community formed among six countries in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome formed in 1957 by the same states. Since then, the EU has grown in size through enlargement, and in power through the addition of policy areas to its remit.



After World War II, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of nationalism which had devastated the continent.[21] One such attempt to unite Europeans was the European Coal and Steel Community which, while having the modest aim of centralised control of the previously national coal and steel industries of its member states, was declared to be "a first step in the federation of Europe".[22] The originators and supporters of the Community include Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul Henri Spaak, and Alcide de Gasperi. The founding members of the Community were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany.[23]

In 1957, these six countries signed the Treaties of Rome which extended the earlier cooperation within the European Coal and Steel Community and created the European Economic Community, (EEC) establishing a customs union and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for cooperation in developing nuclear energy.[23] In 1967 the Merger Treaty created a single set of institutions for the three communities, which were collectively referred to as the European Communities (EC), although commonly just as the European Community.[24]

In 1973, the Communities enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.[25] Norway had negotiated to join at the same time but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum and so Norway remained outside. In 1979, the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held.[26]

Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986.[27] In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led the way toward the creation of open borders without passport controls between most member states and some non-member states.[28] In 1986, the European flag began to be used by the Community[29] and the Single European Act was signed.

The Iron Curtain's fall enabled eastward enlargement. (Berlin Wall)

In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany became part of the Community as part of a newly united Germany.[30] With enlargement towards Eastern and Central Europe on the agenda, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the European Union were agreed.

The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force on 1 November 1993,[10] and in 1995 Austria, Sweden, and Finland joined the newly established EU. In 2002, euro notes and coins replaced national currencies in 12 of the member states. Since then, the eurozone has increased to encompass sixteen countries. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date when Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary joined the Union.[31]

On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became the EU's newest members and Slovenia adopted the euro.[31] In June 2009, the 2009 Parliament elections were held leading to a renewal of Barroso's Commission Presidency, and in July 2009 Iceland formally applied for EU membership. On 1 December 2009, the Lisbon Treaty came into force after a protracted and controversial birth. This reformed many aspects of the EU but in particular created a permanent President of the European Council, the first of which is Herman van Rompuy, and a strengthened High Representative, Catherine Ashton.

Treaties timeline

In force
Paris Agr.
Single Act
Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif
European Communities Three pillars of the European Union
European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM)
European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty expired in 2002 European Union (EU)
    European Economic Community (EEC) European Community (EC)
      Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
  Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters (PJCC)
European Political Cooperation (EPC) Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
Unconsolidated bodies Western European Union (WEU)    

Member states

The European Union is composed of 27 sovereign Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.[32]

The Union's membership has grown from the original six founding states–Belgium, France, (then-West) Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands–to the present day 27 by successive enlargements as countries acceded to the treaties and by doing so, pooled their sovereignty in exchange for representation in the institutions.[33]

To join the EU a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These require a stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy capable of competition within the EU; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country's fulfilment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council.[34]

No member state has ever left the Union, although Greenland (an autonomous province of Denmark) withdrew in 1985. The Lisbon Treaty now provides a clause dealing with how a member leaves the EU.

There are three official candidate countries, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Iceland are officially recognised as potential candidates.[35] Kosovo is also listed as a potential candidate but the European Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states recognise it as an independent country separate from Serbia.[36]

Four Western European countries that have chosen not to join the EU have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland, which has now applied for membership, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, which has similar ties through bilateral treaties.[37][38] The relationships of the European microstates, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican include the use of the euro and other areas of co-operation.[39]


Mont Blanc in the Alps is the highest peak in the EU.

The territory of the EU consists of the combined territories of its 27 member states with some exceptions, outlined below. The territory of the EU is not the same as that of Europe, as parts of the continent are outside the EU, such as Switzerland, Norway, European Russia, and Iceland. Some parts of member states are not part of the EU, despite forming part of the European continent (for example the Isle of Man and Channel Islands (two Crown Dependencies), and the Faroe Islands (a territory of Denmark)). The island country of Cyprus, a member of the EU, is closer to Turkey than to continental Europe and is often considered part of Asia.[40][41]

The EU's climate is influenced by its 65,993 km (41,006 mi) coastline. (Crete)

Several territories associated with member states that are outside geographic Europe are also not part of the EU (such as Greenland, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, and all the non-European British overseas territories). Some overseas territories are part of the EU even though geographically not part of Europe, such as the Azores, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Lampedusa, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Saint Barthélemy, Martinique and Réunion, Ceuta and Melilla. As well, although being technically part of the EU,[42] EU law is suspended in Northern Cyprus as it is under the de facto control of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, a self-proclaimed state that is recognised only by Turkey.

The EU's member states cover an area of 4,422,773 square kilometres (1,707,642 sq mi).[43] The EU is larger in area than all but six countries, and its highest peak is Mont Blanc in the Graian Alps, 4,807 metres (15,771 ft) above sea level. The landscape, climate, and economy of the EU are influenced by its coastline, which is 65,993 kilometres (41,006 mi) long. The EU has the world's second-longest coastline, after Canada. The combined member states share land borders with 19 non-member states for a total of 12,441 kilometres (7,730 mi), the fifth-longest border in the world.[19][44][45]

Including the overseas territories of member states, the EU experiences most types of climate from Arctic to tropical, rendering meteorological averages for the EU as a whole meaningless. The majority of the population lives in areas with a Mediterranean climate (Southern Europe), a temperate maritime climate (Western Europe), or a warm summer continental or hemiboreal climate (Eastern Europe).[46]


European Union
Flag of the European Union

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the European Union


The institutions of the EU operate solely within those competencies conferred on it upon the treaties and according to the principle of subsidiarity (which dictates that action by the EU should only be taken where an objective cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states alone). Law made by the EU institutions is passed in a variety of forms, primarily that which comes into direct force and that which must be passed in a refined form by national parliaments.

Legislative competencies are divided equally, with some exceptions, between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union while executive tasks are carried out by the European Commission and in a limited capacity by the European Council (not to be confused with the aforementioned Council of the European Union). The interpretation and the application of EU law and the treaties are ensured by the Court of Justice of the European Union. There are also a number of ancillary bodies which advise the EU or operate in a specific area.

European Council

The EU receives its political leadership from the European Council, which usually meets four times a year. It comprises one representative per member state—either its head of state or head of government—plus its President as well as the President of the Commission. The member states' representatives are assisted by their Foreign Ministers. The European Council uses its leadership role to sort out disputes between member states and the institutions, and to resolve political crises and disagreements over controversial issues and policies. The European Council should not be mistaken for the Council of Europe, an international organisation independent from the EU.

On 19 November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy was chosen as the first President of the European Council and Catherine Ashton was chosen as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. They both assumed office on 1 December 2009.


The Council (also called "Council of the European Union"[47] and sometimes referred to as the "Council of Ministers"[48]) forms one half of the EU's legislature. It consists of a government minister from each member state and meets in different compositions depending on the policy area being addressed. Notwithstanding its different compositions, it is considered to be one single body.[49] In addition to its legislative functions, the Council also exercises executive functions in relations to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.


The European Commission acts as the EU's executive arm and is responsible for initiating legislation and the day-to-day running of the EU. It is intended to act solely in the interest of the EU as a whole, as opposed to the Council which consists of leaders of member states who reflect national interests. The commission is also seen as the motor of European integration. It is currently composed of 27 commissioners for different areas of policy, one from each member state. The President of the Commission and all the other commissioners are nominated by the Council. Appointment of the Commission President, and also the Commission in its entirety, have to be confirmed by Parliament.[50]


The European Parliament forms the other half of the EU's legislature. The 736 (soon to be 750) Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens every five years. Although MEPs are elected on a national basis, they sit according to political groups rather than their nationality. Each country has a set number of seats and in some cases is divided into sub-national constituencies. The Parliament and the Council of Ministers pass legislation jointly in nearly all areas under the ordinary legislative procedure. This also applies to the EU budget. Finally, the Commission is accountable to Parliament, requiring its approval to take office, having to report back to it and subject to motions of censure from it. The President of the European Parliament carries out the role of speaker in parliament and represents it externally. The president and vice presidents are elected by MEPs every two and a half years.[51]


The judicial branch of the EU—formally called the Court of Justice of the European Union—consists of three courts: the Court of Justice, the General Court, and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal. Together they interpret and apply the treaties and the law of the EU.[52]

The Court of Justice primarily deals with cases taken by member states, the institutions, and cases referred to it by the courts of member states.[53] The General Court mainly deals with cases taken by individuals and companies directly before the EU's courts,[54] and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal adjudicates in disputes between the European Union and its civil service.[55] Decisions from the General Court can be appealed to the Court of Justice but only on a point of law.[56]

Legal system

The EU is based on a series of treaties. These first established the European Community and the EU, and then made amendments to those founding treaties.[57] These are power-giving treaties which set broad policy goals and establish institutions with the necessary legal powers to implement those goals. These legal powers include the ability to enact legislation[58] which can directly affect all member states and their inhabitants.[59] Under the principle of supremacy, national courts are required to enforce the treaties that their member states have ratified, and thus the laws enacted under them, even if doing so requires them to ignore conflicting national law, and (within limits) even constitutional provisions.[60]

The Court of Justice in Luxembourg can judge member states over EU law.

The main legal acts of the EU come in three forms: regulations, directives, and decisions. Regulations become law in all member states the moment they come into force, without the requirement for any implementing measures,[61] and automatically override conflicting domestic provisions.[58] Directives require member states to achieve a certain result while leaving them discretion as to how to achieve the result. The details of how they are to be implemented are left to member states.[62]

When the time limit for implementing directives passes, they may, under certain conditions, have direct effect in national law against member states. Decisions offer an alternative to the two above modes of legislation. They are legal acts which only apply to specified individuals, companies or a particular member state. They are most often used in Competition Law, or on rulings on State Aid, but are also frequently used for procedural or administrative matters within the institutions. Regulations, directives, and decisions are of equal legal value and apply without any formal hierarchy.

One of the complicating features of the EU's legal system is the multiplicity of legislative procedures used to enact legislation. The treaties micro-manage the EU's powers, indicating different ways of adopting legislation for different policy areas and for different areas within the same policy areas.[63] A common feature of the EU's legislative procedures, however, is that almost all legislation must be initiated by the Commission, rather than member states or European parliamentarians.[64] The two most common procedures are co-decision, under which the European Parliament can veto proposed legislation, and consultation, under which Parliament is only permitted to give an opinion which can be ignored by European leaders. In most cases legislation must be agreed by the council.[65]

National courts within the member states play a key role in the EU as enforcers of EU law, and a "spirit of cooperation" between EU and national courts is laid down in the Treaties. National courts can apply EU law in domestic cases, and if they require clarification on the interpretation or validity of any EU legislation related to the case it may make a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice. The right to declare EU legislation invalid however is reserved to the EU courts.

Fundamental rights

As a product of efforts to establish a written fundamental rights code, the EU drew up the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000. The Charter is legally binding since the Lisbon Treaty has come into force.[66] Also, the Court of Justice gives judgements on fundamental rights derived from the "constitutional traditions common to the member states,"[67] and may even invalidate EU legislation based on its failure to adhere to these fundamental rights.[68]

Although signing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a condition for EU membership,[69] the EU itself is not covered by the convention as it is neither a state[70] nor has the competence to accede.[71] Nonetheless the Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights co-operate to ensure their case-law does not conflict.[72] Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has been required to accede to the ECHR.[73] The EU opposes the death penalty and promotes its world wide abolition.[74] Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for EU membership.[75]

Foreign relations

EU member states have a standardised passport design, burgundy coloured with the name of the member state, Coat of Arms and with the words "European Union" given in their official language(s) at the top; in this case those of Ireland.

Foreign policy cooperation between member states dates from the establishment of the Community in 1957, when member states negotiated as a bloc in international trade negotiations under the Common Commercial Policy.[76] Steps for a more wide ranging coordination in foreign relations began in 1970 with the establishment of European Political Cooperation which created an informal consultation process between member states with the aim of forming common foreign policies. It was not, however, until 1987 when European Political Cooperation was introduced on a formal basis by the Single European Act. EPC was renamed as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by the Maastricht Treaty.[77]

The Maastricht Treaty gives the CFSP the aims of promoting both the EU's own interests and those of the international community as a whole. This includes promoting international co-operation, respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.[78]

Catherine Ashton is the EU's High Representative in foreign policy.

The Amsterdam Treaty created the office of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (currently held by Catherine Ashton) to co-ordinate the EU's foreign policy.[79] The High Representative, in conjunction with the current Presidency, speaks on behalf of the EU in foreign policy matters and can have the task of articulating ambiguous policy positions created by disagreements among member states. The Common Foreign and Security Policy requires unanimity among the now 27 member states on the appropriate policy to follow on any particular issue. The unanimity and difficult issues treated under the CFSP makes disagreements, such as those which occurred over the war in Iraq,[80] not uncommon.

Besides the emerging international policy of the European Union, the international influence of the EU is also felt through enlargement. The perceived benefits of becoming a member of the EU act as an incentive for both political and economic reform in states wishing to fulfil the EU's accession criteria, and are considered an important factor contributing to the reform of former Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe.[81] This influence on the internal affairs of other countries is generally referred to as "soft power", as opposed to military "hard power".[82]

The EU participates in all G8 summits. (Heiligendamm, Germany)

In the UN, as an observer and working together, the EU has gained influence in areas such as aid due to its large contributions in that field (see below).[83] In the G8, the EU has rights of membership besides chairing/hosting summit meetings and is represented at meetings by the presidents of the Commission and the Council.[84] In the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where all 27 member states are represented, the EU as a body is represented by Trade Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.[85]

Military and defence

The Eurofighter is built by a consortium of four EU countries.

The predecessors of the European Union were not devised as a strong military alliance because NATO was largely seen as appropriate and sufficient for defence purposes.[86] Twenty-one EU members are members of NATO[87] while the remaining member states follow policies of neutrality.[88] The Western European Union (WEU) is a European security organisation related to the EU. In 1992, the WEU's relationship with the EU was defined, when the EU assigned it the "Petersberg tasks" (humanitarian missions such as peacekeeping and crisis management). These tasks were later transferred from the WEU to the EU by the Amsterdam Treaty and now form part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy. Elements of the WEU are currently being merged into the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the President of the WEU is currently the EU's foreign policy chief.[89][90]

CFSP forces are peacekeeping in parts of the Balkans and Africa.

Following the Kosovo War in 1999, the European Council agreed that "the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and the readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises without prejudice to actions by NATO". To that end, a number of efforts were made to increase the EU's military capability, notably the Helsinki Headline Goal process. After much discussion, the most concrete result was the EU Battlegroups initiative, each of which is planned to be able to deploy quickly about 1500 personel.[91]

EU forces have been deployed on peacekeeping missions from Africa to the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East.[92] EU military operations are supported by a number of bodies, including the European Defence Agency, satellite centre and the military staff.[93] In an EU consisting of 27 members, substantial security and defence cooperation is increasingly relying on great power cooperation.[94]

Humanitarian aid

Collectively, the EU is the largest contributor of foreign aid in the world.

The European Community Humanitarian Aid Office, or "ECHO", provides humanitarian aid from the EU to developing countries. In 2006 its budget amounted to €671 million, 48% of which went to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.[95] Counting the EU's own contributions and those of its member states together, the EU is the largest aid donor in the world.[96]

The EU's aid has previously been criticised by the eurosceptic think-tank Open Europe for being inefficient, mis-targeted and linked to economic objectives.[97] Furthermore, some charities have claimed European governments have inflated the amount they have spent on aid by incorrectly including money spent on debt relief, foreign students, and refugees. Under the de-inflated figures, the EU as a whole did not reach its internal aid target in 2006[98] and is expected not to reach the international target of 0.7% of gross national income until 2015.[99]

However, four countries have reached that target, most notably Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Denmark.[96] In 2005 EU aid was 0.34% of the GNP which was higher than that of either the United States or Japan.[100] The previous commissioner for aid, Louis Michel, has called for aid to be delivered more rapidly, to greater effect, and on humanitarian principles.[101]

Justice and home affairs

The Schengen Area comprises most member states ensuring open borders.

Over the years, the EU has developed a wide competence in the area of justice and home affairs. To this end, agencies have been established that co-ordinate associated actions: Europol for co-operation of police forces,[102] Eurojust for co-operation between prosecutors,[103] and Frontex for co-operation between border control authorities.[104] The EU also operates the Schengen Information System[17] which provides a common database for police and immigration authorities.

Furthermore, the Union has legislated in areas such as extradition,[105] family law,[106] asylum law,[107] and criminal justice.[108] Prohibitions against sexual and nationality discrimination have a long standing in the treaties.[109] In more recent years, these have been supplemented by powers to legislate against discrimination based on race, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation.[110] By virtue of these powers, the EU has enacted legislation on sexual discrimination in the work-place, age discrimination, and racial discrimination.[111]


178 of the world's 500 largest corporations are headquartered in EU countries. (HSBC, UK.)

Since its origin, the EU has established a single economic market across the territory of all its members. Currently, a single currency is in use between the 16 members of the eurozone.[112][113] If considered as a single economy, the EU generated an estimated nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of US$18.39 trillion (15.247 trillion international dollars based on purchasing power parity) in 2008, amounting to over 22% of the world's total economic output in terms of purchasing power parity,[12] which makes it the largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and the second largest trade bloc economy in the world by PPP valuation of GDP. It is also the largest exporter ,[114] and largest importer[115] of goods and services, and the biggest trading partner to several large countries such as China and India.[116][117][118]

178 of the top 500 largest corporations measured by revenue (Fortune Global 500) have their headquarters in the EU.[119]

In May 2007 unemployment in the EU stood at 7%[120] while investment was at 21.4% of GDP, inflation at 2.2% and public deficit at −0.9% of GDP.[121] There is a great deal of variance for annual per capita income within individual EU states, these range from US$7,000 to US$69,000.[122]

Single market

Two of the original core objectives of the European Economic Community were the development of a common market, subsequently renamed the single market, and a customs union between its member states. The single market involves the free circulation of goods, capital, people and services within the EU,[113] and the customs union involves the application of a common external tariff on all goods entering the market. Once goods have been admitted into the market they can not be subjected to customs duties, discriminatory taxes or import quotas, as they travel internally. The non-EU member states of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland participate in the single market but not in the customs union.[37] Half the trade in the EU is covered by legislation harmonised by the EU.[123]

Free movement of capital is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between countries.[124] Until the drive towards Economic and Monetary Union the development of the capital provisions had been slow. Post-Maastricht there has been a rapidly developing corpus of ECJ judgements regarding this initially neglected freedom. The free movement of capital is unique insofar as that it is granted equally to non-member states.

The free movement of persons means citizens can move freely between member states to live, work, study or retire in another country. This required the lowering of administrative formalities and recognition of professional qualifications of other states.[125]

The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, legislation in the area is not as developed as in other areas. This lacuna has been addressed by the recently passed Directive on services in the internal market which aims to liberalise the cross border provision of services.[126] According to the Treaty the provision of services is a residual freedom that only applies if no other freedom is being exercised.

Monetary union

The European Central Bank in Frankfurt governs the eurozone's monetary policy.

The creation of a European single currency became an official objective of the EU in 1969. However, it was only with the advent of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 that member states were legally bound to start the monetary union no later than 1 January 1999. On this date the euro was duly launched by eleven of the then fifteen member states of the EU. It remained an accounting currency until 1 January 2002, when euro notes and coins were issued and national currencies began to phase out in the eurozone, which by then consisted of twelve member states. The eurozone has since grown to sixteen countries, the most recent being Slovakia which joined on 1 January 2009.

16 EU countries have introduced the euro as their sole currency.

All other EU member states, except Denmark and the United Kingdom, are legally bound to join the euro[127] when the convergence criteria are met, however only a few countries have set target dates for accession. Sweden has circumvented the requirement to join the euro by not meeting the membership criteria.[128]

The euro is designed to help build a single market by, for example: easing travel of citizens and goods, eliminating exchange rate problems, providing price transparency, creating a single financial market, price stability and low interest rates, and providing a currency used internationally and protected against shocks by the large amount of internal trade within the eurozone. It is also intended as a political symbol of integration and stimulus for more.[112] Since its launch the euro has become the second reserve currency in the world with a quarter of foreign exchanges reserves being in euro.[129]

The euro, and the monetary policies of those who have adopted it in agreement with the EU, are under the control of the European Central Bank (ECB).[130] There are eleven other currencies used in the EU.[112] A number of other countries outside the EU, such as Montenegro, use the euro without formal agreement with the ECB.[39]


The EU operates a competition policy intended to ensure undistorted competition within the single market.[131] The Commission as the competition regulator for the single market is responsible for antitrust issues, approving mergers, breaking up cartels, working for economic liberalisation and preventing state aid.[132]

The Competition Commissioner, currently Neelie Kroes, is one of the most powerful positions in the Commission, notable for the ability to affect the commercial interests of trans-national corporations.[133] For example, in 2001 the Commission for the first time prevented a merger between two companies based in the United States (GE and Honeywell) which had already been approved by their national authority.[134] Another high profile case against Microsoft, resulted in the Commission fining Microsoft over €777 million following nine years of legal action.[135]

In negotiations on the Treaty of Lisbon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in removing the words "free and undistorted competition" from the treaties. However, the requirement is maintained in an annex and it is unclear whether this will have any practical effect on EU policy.[136]


2006 EU total expenditure.      Agriculture: 46.7%      Structural Actions: 30.4%      Internal Policies: 8.5%      Administration: 6.3%      External Actions: 4.9%      Pre-Accession Strategy: 2.1%      Compensations: 1.0%      Reserves: 0.1%

The twenty-seven member state EU had an agreed budget of €120.7 billion for the year 2007 and €864.3 billion for the period 2007–2013,[137] representing 1.10% and 1.05% of the EU-27's GNI forecast for the respective periods. By comparison, the United Kingdom's expenditure for 2004 was estimated to be €759 billion, and France was estimated to have spent €801 billion. In 1960, the budget of the then European Economic Community was 0.03% of GDP.[138]

In the 2006 budget, the largest single expenditure item was agriculture with around 46.7% of the total budget.[139] Next came structural and cohesion funds with approximately 30.4% of the total.[139] Internal policies took up around 8.5%. Administration accounted for around 6.3%. External actions, the pre-accession strategy, compensations and reserves brought up the rear with approximately 4.9%, 2.1%, 1% and 0.1% respectively.[139]



The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the oldest policies of the European Community, and was one of its core aims.[140] The policy has the objectives of increasing agricultural production, providing certainty in food supplies, ensuring a high quality of life for farmers, stabilising markets, and ensuring reasonable prices for consumers.[141] It was, until recently, operated by a system of subsidies and market intervention. Until the 1990s, the policy accounted for over 60% of the then European Community's annual budget, and still accounts for around 35%.[140]

EU farms are supported by the CAP, the largest budgetary expenditure. (Vineyard in Spain)

The policy's price controls and market interventions led to considerable overproduction, resulting in so-called butter mountains and wine lakes. These were intervention stores of produce bought up by the Community to maintain minimum price levels. In order to dispose of surplus stores, they were often sold on the world market at prices considerably below Community guaranteed prices, or farmers were offered subsidies (amounting to the difference between the Community and world prices) to export their produce outside the Community. This system has been criticised for under-cutting farmers in the developing world.[142]

The overproduction has also been criticised for encouraging environmentally unfriendly intensive farming methods.[142] Supporters of CAP say that the economic support which it gives to farmers provides them with a reasonable standard of living, in what would otherwise be an economically unviable way of life. However, the EU's small farmers receive only 8% of CAP's available subsidies.[142]

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the CAP has been subject to a series of reforms. Initially these reforms included the introduction of set-aside in 1988, where a proportion of farm land was deliberately withdrawn from production, milk quotas (by the McSharry reforms in 1992) and, more recently, the 'de-coupling' (or disassociation) of the money farmers receive from the EU and the amount they produce (by the Fischler reforms in 2004). Agriculture expenditure will move away from subsidy payments linked to specific produce, toward direct payments based on farm size. This is intended to allow the market to dictate production levels, while maintaining agricultural income levels.[140] One of these reforms entailed the abolition of the EU's sugar regime, which previously divided the sugar market between member states and certain African-Caribbean nations with a privileged relationship with the EU.[143]


EU energy production
46% of total EU primary energy use
Nuclear energy[144] 29.3%
Coal & lignite 21.9%
Gas 19.4%
Renewable energy 14.6%
Oil 13.4%
Other 1.4%
Net imports of energy
54% of total primary EU energy use
Oil & petroleum products 60.2%
Gas 26.4%
Other 13.4%

In 2006, the 27 member states of the EU had a gross inland energy consumption of 1,825 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe).[145] Around 46% of the energy consumed was produced within the member states while 54% was imported.[145] In these statistics, nuclear energy is treated as primary energy produced in the EU, regardless of the source of the uranium, of which less than 3% is produced in the EU.[146]

The EU has had legislative power in the area of energy policy for most of its existence; this has its roots in the original European Coal and Steel Community. The introduction of a mandatory and comprehensive European energy policy was approved at the meeting of the European Council in October 2005, and the first draft policy was published in January 2007.[147]

The Commission has five key points in its energy policy: increase competition in the internal market, encourage investment and boost interconnections between electricity grids; diversify energy resources with better systems to respond to a crisis; establish a new treaty framework for energy co-operation with Russia while improving relations with energy-rich states in Central Asia[148] and North Africa; use existing energy supplies more efficiently while increasing use of renewable energy; and finally increase funding for new energy technologies.[147]

The EU currently imports 82% of its oil, 57% of its gas[149] and 97.48% of its uranium[146] demands. There are concerns that Europe's dependence on Russian energy is endangering the Union and its member countries. The EU is attempting to diversify its energy supply.[150]


The Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden is part of the Trans-European Networks.

The EU is working to improve cross-border infrastructure within the EU, for example through the Trans-European Networks (TEN). Projects under TEN include the Channel Tunnel, LGV Est, the Fréjus Rail Tunnel, the Öresund Bridge and the Brenner Base Tunnel. In 2001 it was estimated that by 2010 the network would cover: 75,200 kilometres (46,700 mi) of roads; 78,000 kilometres (48,000 mi) of railways; 330 airports; 270 maritime harbours; and 210 internal harbours.[151][152]

The developing European transport policies will increase the pressure on the environment in many regions by the increased transport network. In the pre-2004 EU members, the major problem in transport deals with congestion and pollution. After the recent enlargement, the new states that joined since 2004 added the problem of solving accessibility to the transport agenda.[153] The Polish road network in particular was in poor condition: at Poland's accession to the EU, 4,600 roads needed to be upgraded to EU standards, demanding approximately €17 billion.[154]

Another infrastructure project is the Galileo positioning system. Galileo is a proposed Global Navigation Satellite System, to be built by the EU and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), and is to be operational by 2010. The Galileo project was launched partly to reduce the EU's dependency on the US-operated Global Positioning System, but also to give more complete global coverage and allow for far greater accuracy, given the aged nature of the GPS system.[155] It has been criticised by some due to costs, delays, and their perception of redundancy given the existence of the GPS system.[156]

Regional development

EU funds finance infrastructure such as the motorway PragueBerlin (D8/A17) pictured near Lovosice, Czech Republic

There are substantial economical disparities across the EU. Even corrected for purchasing power, the difference between the richest and poorest regions (271 NUTS-2 regions of the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics) ranged, in 2007, from 26% of the EU27 average in the region of Severozapaden in Bulgaria, to 334% of the average in Inner London in the United Kingdom. On the high end, Inner London has €83,200 PPP per capita, Luxembourg €68,500, and Bruxelles-Cap €55,000, while the poorest regions, are Severozapaden with €6,400 PPP per capita, Nord-Est and Severen tsentralen with €6,600 and Yuzhen tsentralen with €6,800.[157] Compared to the EU average, the United States GDP per capita is 35% higher and the Japanese GDP per capita is approximately 15% higher.[158]

There are a number of Structural Funds and Cohesion Funds to support development of underdeveloped regions of the EU. Such regions are primarily located in the new member states of East-Central Europe.[159] Several funds provide emergency aid, support for candidate members to transform their country to conform to the EU's standard (Phare, ISPA, and SAPARD), and support to the former USSR Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS). TACIS has now become part of the worldwide EuropeAid programme. The EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) sponsors research conducted by consortia from all EU members to work towards a single European Research Area.[160]


The first environmental policy of the European Community was launched in 1972. Since then it has addressed issues such as acid rain, the thinning of the ozone layer, air quality, noise pollution, waste and water pollution. The Water Framework Directive is an example of a water policy, aiming for rivers, lakes, ground and coastal waters to be of "good quality" by 2015. Wildlife is protected through the Natura 2000 programme and covers 30,000 sites throughout Europe.[161] In 2007, the Polish government sought to build a motorway through the Rospuda valley, but the Commission has been blocking construction as the valley is a wildlife area covered by the programme.[162]

The Commission have managed to protect the Rospuda valley in Poland.

The REACH regulation was a piece of EU legislation designed to ensure that 30,000 chemicals in daily use are tested for their safety.[163] In 2006, toxic waste spill off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire, from a European ship, prompted the Commission to look into legislation regarding toxic waste. With members such as Spain now having criminal laws against shipping toxic waste, the Commission proposed to create criminal sentences for "ecological crimes". Although the Commission's right to propose criminal law was contested, it was confirmed in this case by the Court of Justice.[164]

In 2007, member states agreed that the EU is to use 20% renewable energy in the future and that is has to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels.[165] This includes measures that in 2020, one-tenth of all cars and trucks in EU 27 should be running on biofuels. This is considered to be one of the most ambitious moves of an important industrialised region to fight global warming.[166]

At the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference, dealing with the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has proposed at 50% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050.[167] The EU's attempts to cut its carbon footprint appear to have also been aided by an expansion of Europe's forests which, between 1990 and 2005, grew 10% in western Europe and 15% in Eastern Europe. During this period they soaked up 126 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11% of EU emissions from human activities.[168]

Education and research

Renewable energy is one priority in transnational research activities such as the FP7.

Education and science are areas where the EU's role is limited to supporting national governments. In education, the policy was mainly developed in the 1980s in programmes supporting exchanges and mobility. The most visible of these has been the ERASMUS programme, a university exchange programme which began in 1987. In its first 20 years it has supported international exchange opportunities for well over 1.5 million university and college students and has become a symbol of European student life.[169]

There are now similar programmes for school pupils and teachers, for trainees in vocational education and training, and for adult learners in the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013. These programmes are designed to encourage a wider knowledge of other countries and to spread good practices in the education and training fields across the EU.[170] Through its support of the Bologna process the EU is supporting comparable standards and compatible degrees across Europe.

Ariane 5 10 2007.ogg
16 EU countries are members of the European Space Agency. (Launch of an Ariane rocket in Guiana)

Scientific development is facilitated through the EU's Framework Programmes, the first of which started in 1984. The aims of EU policy in this area are to co-ordinate and stimulate research. The independent European Research Council allocates EU funds to European or national research projects.[171] The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) deals in a number of areas, for example energy where it aims to develop a diverse mix of renewable energy for the environment and to reduce dependence on imported fuels.[172]

Since January 2000 the European Commission has set its sights on a more ambitious objective, known as the European Research Area, and has extensively funded research in a few key areas. This has the support of all member states, and extends the existing financing structure of the frameworks. It aims to focus on co-ordination, sharing knowledge, ensuring mobility of researchers around Europe, improving conditions for researchers and encouraging links with business and industry as well as removing any legal and administrative barriers.[173]

The EU is involved with six other countries to develop ITER, a fusion reactor which will be built in the EU at Cadarache. ITER builds on the previous project, Joint European Torus, which is currently the largest nuclear fusion reactor in the world.[174] The Commission foresees this technology to be generating energy in the EU by 2050.[147] It has observer status within CERN, there are various agreements with ESA and there is collaboration with ESO.[175] These organisations are not under the framework of the EU, but membership heavily overlaps between them.


Population of the 5 largest cities in the EU[176]
City City limits
(city limits)
/sq mi
(city limits)
Urban area
Berlin 3,410,000 3,815 9,880 3,761,000 4,971,331
London 7,512,400 4,761 12,330 9,332,000 11,917,000
Madrid 3,228,359 5,198 13,460 4,990,000 5,804,829
Paris 2,153,600 24,672 63,900 9,928,000 11,089,124
Rome 2,708,395 2,105 5,450 2,867,000 3,457,690

The combined population of all 27 member states has been estimated at 501,259,840 as of January 2010.[11][5]

The EU's population is 7.3% of the world total, yet the EU covers just 3% of the Earth's land, amounting to a population density of 113 km2 (44 sq mi) making the EU one of the most densely populated regions of the world. One third of EU citizens live in cities of over a million people, rising to 80% living in urban areas generally.[177] The EU is home to more global cities than any other region in the world.[178] It contains 16 cities with populations of over one million.

Besides many large cities, the EU also includes several densely populated regions that have no single core but have emerged from the connection of several cites and now encompass large metropolitan areas. The largest are Rhine-Ruhr having approximately 11.5 million inhabitants (Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf et al.), Randstad approx. 7 million (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht et al.), Frankfurt/Rhine-Main approx. 5.8 million (Frankfurt, Wiesbaden et al.), the Flemish diamond approx. 5.5 million (urban area in between Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven and Ghent), the Upper Silesian Industrial Region approx. 3.5 million (Katowice, Sosnowiec et al.), and the Öresund Region approx. 2.5 million (Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden).[179]


European official languages report (EU-271)
Language Native Speakers Total
English 13% 51%
German 18% 32%
French 13% 26%
Italian 13% 16%
Spanish 9% 15%
Polish 8% 9%
Romanian 5% 5%
Dutch 4% 5%
Greek 2% 3%
Czech 2% 3%
Swedish 2% 3%
Hungarian 2% 3%
Portuguese 2% 2%
Catalan 1% 2%
Bulgarian 1% 2%
Slovak 1% 2%
Danish 1% 1%
Finnish 1% 1%
Lithuanian 1% 1%
Slovene 1% 1%

Published in 2006, before the
accession of Bulgaria and Romania.
1Revised 2010 official statistics.
Native: Native language[180]
Total: EU citizens able to hold a
conversation in this language[181]

Among the many languages and dialects used in the EU, it has 23 official and working languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish.[182][183] Important documents, such as legislation, are translated into every official language. The European Parliament provides translation into all languages for documents and its plenary sessions.[184] Some institutions use only a handful of languages as internal working languages.[185] Language policy is the responsibility of member states, but EU institutions promote the learning of other languages.[186][187]

German is the most widely spoken mother tongue (about 88.7 million people as of 2006), followed by English, Italian and French. English is by far the most spoken foreign language at over half (51%) of the population, with German and French following. 56% of European citizens are able to engage in a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue.[188] Most official languages of the EU belong to the Indo-European language family, except Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian, which belong to the Uralic language family, and Maltese, which is an Afroasiatic language. Most EU official languages are written in the Latin alphabet except Bulgarian, written in Cyrillic, and Greek, written in the Greek alphabet.[189]

Besides the 23 official languages, there are about 150 regional and minority languages, spoken by up to 50 million people.[189] Of these, only the Spanish regional languages (Catalan/Valencian, Galician, and the non-Indo-European Basque), Scottish Gaelic and Welsh [190] can be used by citizens in communication with the main European institutions.[191] Although EU programmes can support regional and minority languages, the protection of linguistic rights is a matter for the individual member states. Though the population of Romani speakers is triple[192] that of Welsh speakers (despite the Porajmos) and the history of Romani people in Europe is seven centuries long, their language is not official in any EU state.

Besides the many regional languages, a broad variety of languages from other parts of the world are spoken by immigrant communities in the member states: Turkish, Maghrebi Arabic, Russian, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Ukrainian, Punjabi and Balkan languages are spoken in many parts of the EU. Many older immigrant communities are bilingual, being fluent in both the local (EU) language and in that of their ancestral community. Migrant languages have no formal status or recognition in the EU or in the EU countries, although from 2007 they are eligible for support from the language teaching section of the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013.[189]


Percentage of Europeans in each member state who believe in "a God"[193]

The EU is a secular body with no formal connection with any religion, but Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (as amended by the Lisbon Treaty) recognises the "status under national law of churches and religious associations" as well as that of "philosophical and non-confessional organisations".[194] The preamble to the Treaty on European Union mentions the "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe".[194] Discussion over the draft texts of the European Constitution and later the Treaty of Lisbon included proposals to mention Christianity or God, or both, in the preamble of the text, but the idea faced opposition and was dropped.[195] This emphasis on Christianity stems from it being by far the largest religion in Europe as well as a cultural marker for, and vastly influential on, Europe and Western/European civilization. Other significant religions present in the EU are Islam and Judaism.[citation needed]

Christians in the EU are divided among followers of Roman Catholicism, numerous Protestant denominations (especially in northern Europe), and Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic (in south eastern Europe). Other religions, such as Islam and Judaism, are also represented in the EU population. As of 2009, the EU had an estimated Muslim population of 13 million,[196] and an estimated Jewish population of over a million.[197]

Eurostat's Eurobarometer opinion polls show that in 2005 the majority of EU citizens (52%) believed in a god, and that a majority had some form of belief system, with 21% seeing it as important. Many countries have experienced falling church attendance and membership in recent years.[198] The 2005 Eurobarometer showed that of the European citizens (of the 25 members at that time), 52% believed in a god, 27% in "some sort of spirit or life force", and 18% had no form of belief. The countries where the fewest people reported a religious belief were the Czech Republic (19%) and Estonia (16%).[199]

The most religious countries are Malta (95%; predominantly Roman Catholic), and Cyprus and Romania both with about 90% of the citizens believing in God (both predominantly Eastern Orthodox). Across the EU, belief was higher among women, increased with age, those with religious upbringing, those who left school at 15 with a basic education, and those "positioning themselves on the right of the political scale (57%)."[199]

Culture and sport

Pécs, the Hungarian city is one of the three European Capitals of Culture in 2010.

Policies affecting cultural matters are mainly set by individual member states. Cultural co-operation between member states has been a concern of the EU since its inclusion as a community competency in the Maastricht Treaty.[200] Actions taken in the cultural area by the EU include the Culture 2000 7-year programme,[200] the European Cultural Month event,[201] the Media Plus programme,[202] orchestras such as the European Union Youth Orchestra[203] and the European Capital of Culture programme – where one or more cities in the EU are selected for one year to assist the cultural development of that city.[204]

In addition, the EU gives grants to cultural projects (totalling 233 in 2004) and has launched a Web portal dedicated to Europe and culture, responding to the European Council's expressed desire to see the Commission and the member states "promote the networking of cultural information to enable all citizens to access European cultural content by the most advanced technological means".[205]

Sport is mainly the responsibility of individual member states or other international organisations rather than that of the EU. However, some EU policies have had an impact on sport, such as the free movement of workers which was at the core of the Bosman ruling, which prohibited national football leagues from imposing quotas on foreign players with European citizenship.[206] Under the Treaty of Lisbon sports were given a special status which exempted this sector from many of the EU's economic rules. This followed lobbying by governing organisations such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, due to objections over the applications of free market principles to sport which led to an increasing gap between rich and poor clubs.[207]

See also


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Further reading

  • Craig, Paul; de Búrca, Gráinne (2007). EU Law, Text, Cases and Materials (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-927389-8. 
  • Dinan, Desmond (2004). Europe Recast: A History of European Union. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-98734-6. 
  • Hix, Simon (2005). The Political System of the European Union. The European Union Series (2nd ed.). Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 0-333-96182-X. 
  • Kaiser, Wolfram. Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union (2007)
  • ed. by John Peterson ... (2006). Peterson, John; Shackleton, Michael. eds. The Institutions of the European Union (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-870052-0. 
  • McCormick, John. The European Union: Politics and Policies (2007)
  • Pinder, John, and Simon Usherwood. The European Union: A Very Short Introduction (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Podmore, Will & Nicholls, Doug (2006), The EU: bad for Britain - a trade union view. Bread Books, ISBN 0-942112-5-1.
  • Rifkin, Jeremy (2004). The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. Jeremy P. Tarcher. ISBN 978-1-58542-345-3. 
  • Smith, Charles (2007). International Trade and Globalisation, 3rd edition. Stocksfield: Anforme. ISBN 1-905504-10-1. 
  • Staab, Andreas. The European Union Explained: Institutions, Actors, Global Impact (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Steiner, Josephine; Woods, Lorna; Twigg-Flesner, Christian (2006). EU Law (9th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-927959-3. 
  • Story, Christopher (2002). The European Union Collective: Enemy of its member states. Edward Harle. ISBN 1-899798-01-3. 
  • Yesilada, Birol A. and David M. Wood. The Emerging European Union (5th ed. 2009)

External links

Overviews and data

File:Europe (orthographic projection).svg
Area 10,180,000 km2 (3,930,000 sq mi)o[›]
Population 731,000,000o[›] (2009, 3rd)
Pop. density 70/km2 (181/sq mi)
Demonym European
Countries 50 (List of countries)
Languages List of languages
Time Zones UTC to UTC+5
Internet TLD .eu (European Union)
Largest cities List of cities

Europe (/ˈjʊərəp/ YEWR-əp or /ˈjɜrəp/ YUR-əp[1]) is one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally divided from Asia to its east by the water divide of the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus region (Specification of borders) and the Black Sea to the southeast.[2] Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean and other bodies of water to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Black Sea and connected waterways to the southeast. Yet the borders for Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are somewhat arbitrary, as the term continent can refer to a cultural and political distinction or a physiographic one.

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,180,000 square kilometres (3,930,000 sq mi) or 2% of the Earth's surface and about 6.8% of its land area. Of Europe's approximately 50 states, Russia is the largest by both area and population (although the country covers both Europe and Asia), while the Vatican City is the smallest. Europe is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of 731 million or about 11% of the world's population.

Europe, in particular Ancient Greece, is the birthplace of Western culture.[3] It played a predominant role in global affairs from the 16th century onwards, especially after the beginning of colonialism. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European nations controlled at various times the Americas, most of Africa, Oceania, and large portions of Asia. Both World Wars were largely focused upon Europe, greatly contributing to a decline in Western European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the United States and Soviet Union took prominence.[4] During the Cold War, Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east. European integration led to the formation of the Council of Europe and the European Union in Western Europe, both of which have been expanding eastward since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.



File:T and O map Guntherus Ziner
A medieval T and O map from 1472 showing the division of the world into 3 continents, allocated to the three sons of Noah

The use of the term "Europe" has developed gradually throughout history.[5][6] In antiquity, the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the world had been divided by unknown persons into the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Libya (Africa), with the Nile and the river Phasis forming their boundaries—though he also states that some considered the River Don, rather than the Phasis, as the boundary between Europe and Asia.[7] Flavius Josephus and the Book of Jubilees described the continents as the lands given by Noah to his three sons; Europe was defined as between the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, separating it from Africa, and the Don, separating it from Asia.[8]

A cultural definition of Europe as the lands of Latin Christendom coalesced in the 8th century, signifying the new cultural condominium created through the confluence of Germanic traditions and Christian-Latin culture, defined partly in contrast with Byzantium and Islam, and limited to northern Iberia, the British Isles, France, Christianized western Germany, the Alpine regions and northern and central Italy.[9] The concept is one of the lasting legacies of the Carolingian Renaissance: "Europa" often figures in the letters of Charlemagne's cultural minister, Alcuin.[10] This division—as much cultural as geographical—was used until the Late Middle Ages, when it was challenged by the Age of Discovery.[11][12] The problem of redefining Europe was finally resolved in 1730 when, instead of waterways, the Swedish geographer and cartographer von Strahlenberg proposed the Ural Mountains as the most significant eastern boundary, a suggestion that found favour in Russia and throughout Europe.[13]

Europe is now generally defined by geographers as the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, with its boundaries marked by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the south-east, the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.[14]

Sometimes, the word 'Europe' is used in a geopolitically limiting way[15] to refer only to the European Union or, even more exclusively, a culturally defined core. On the other hand, the Council of Europe has 47 member countries, and only 27 member states are in the EU.[16] In addition, people living in insular areas such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, the North Atlantic and Mediterranean islands and also in Scandinavia may routinely refer to "continental" or "mainland" Europe simply as Europe or "the Continent".[17]

Clickable map of Europe, showing one of the most commonly used geographical boundaries[18] (legend: blue = states in both Europe and Asia; green = sometimes included within Europe but geographically outside Europe's boundaries)


In ancient Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess whom Zeus abducted after assuming the form of a dazzling white bull. He took her to the island of Crete where she gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon. For Homer, Europe (Greek: Εὐρώπη, Eurṓpē; see also List of traditional Greek place names) was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later, Europa stood for central-north Greece, and by 500 BC its meaning had been extended to the lands to the north.

The name of Europa is of uncertain etymology.[19] One theory suggests that it is derived from the Greek roots meaning broad (eur-) and eye (op-, opt-), hence Eurṓpē, "wide-gazing", "broad of aspect" (compare with glaukōpis (grey-eyed) Athena or boōpis (ox-eyed) Hera). Broad has been an epithet of Earth itself in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion.[20] Another theory suggests that it is actually based on a Semitic word such as the Akkadian erebu meaning "to go down, set" (cf. Occident),[21] cognate to Phoenician 'ereb "evening; west" and Arabic Maghreb, Hebrew ma'ariv (see also Erebus, PIE *h1regʷos, "darkness"). However, M. L. West states that "phonologically, the match between Europa's name and any form of the Semitic word is very poor".[22]

Most major world languages use words derived from "Europa" to refer to the "continent" (peninsula). Chinese, for example, uses the word Ōuzhōu (歐洲), which is an abbreviation of the transliterated name Ōuluóbā zhōu (歐羅巴洲); however, in some Turkic languages the name Frengistan (land of the Franks) is used casually in referring to much of Europe, besides official names such as Avrupa or Evropa.[23]



File:Stonehenge back
Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in the United Kingdom

Homo georgicus, which lived roughly 1.8 million years ago in Georgia, is the earliest hominid to have been discovered in Europe.[24] Other hominid remains, dating back roughly 1 million years, have been discovered in Atapuerca, Spain.[25] Neanderthal man (named for the Neander Valley in Germany) appeared in Europe 150,000 years ago and disappeared from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago. The Neanderthals were supplanted by modern humans (Cro-Magnons), who appeared in Europe around 40,000 years ago.[26]

The European Neolithic period—marked by the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock, increased numbers of settlements and the widespread use of pottery—began around 7,000 BC in Greece and the Balkans, probably influenced by earlier farming practices in Anatolia and the Near East. It spread from South Eastern Europe along the valleys of the Danube and the Rhine (Linear Pottery culture) and along the Mediterranean coast (Cardial culture). Between 4,500 and 3,000 BC these central European neolithic cultures developed further to the west and the north, transmitting newly acquired skills in producing copper artefacts. In Western Europe the Neolithic period was characterised not by large agricultural settlements but by field monuments, such as causewayed enclosures, burial mounds and megalithic tombs.[27] The Corded ware cultural horizon flourished at the transition from the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic. During this period giant megalithic monuments, such as the Megalithic Temples of Malta and Stonehenge, were constructed throughout Western and Southern Europe.[28][29] The European Bronze Age began in the late 3rd millennium BC with the Beaker culture.

The European Iron Age began around 800 BC, with the Hallstatt culture. Iron Age colonisation by the Phoenicians gave rise to early Mediterranean cities. Early Iron Age Italy and Greece from around the 8th century BC gradually gave rise to historical Classical Antiquity.

Classical antiquity

File:Temple of
The Greek Temple of Apollo, Paestum, Italy

Ancient Greece had a profound impact on Western civilisation. Western democratic and individualistic culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece.[30] The Greeks invented the polis, or city-state, which played a fundamental role in their concept of identity.[31] These Greek political ideals were rediscovered in the late 18th century by European philosophers and idealists. Greece also generated many cultural contributions: in philosophy, humanism and rationalism under Aristotle, Socrates and Plato; in history with Herodotus and Thucydides; in dramatic and narrative verse, starting with the epic poems of Homer;[30] and in science with Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes.[32][33][34]

File:Roman Empire full
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent

Another major influence on Europe came from the Roman Empire which left its mark on law, language, engineering, architecture, and government.[35] During the pax romana, the Roman Empire expanded to encompass the entire Mediterranean Basin and much of Europe.[36]

Stoicism influenced Roman emperors such as Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, who all spent time on the Empire's northern border fighting Germanic, Pictish and Scottish tribes.[37][38] Christianity was eventually legitimised by Constantine I after three centuries of imperial persecution.

Early Middle Ages

[[File:|thumb|right|Roland pledges fealty to Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor.]] During the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of change arising from what historians call the "Age of Migrations". There were numerous invasions and migrations amongst the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Slavs, Avars, Bulgars and, later still, the Vikings and Magyars.[36] Renaissance thinkers such as Petrarch would later refer to this as the "Dark Ages".[39] Isolated monastic communities were the only places to safeguard and compile written knowledge accumulated previously; apart from this very few written records survive and much literature, philosophy, mathematics, and other thinking from the classical period disappeared from Europe.[40]

During the Dark Ages, the Western Roman Empire fell under the control of various tribes. The Germanic and Slav tribes established their domains over Western and Eastern Europe respectively.[41] Eventually the Frankish tribes were united under Clovis I.[42] Charlemagne, a Frankish king of the Carolingian dynasty who had conquered most of Western Europe, was anointed "Holy Roman Emperor" by the Pope in 800. This led to the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, which eventually became centred in the German principalities of central Europe.[43]

The predominantly Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire became known in the west as the Byzantine Empire. Its capital was Constantinople. Emperor Justinian I presided over Constantinople's first golden age: he established a legal code, funded the construction of the Hagia Sophia and brought the Christian church under state control.[44] Fatally weakened by the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantines fell in 1453 when they were conquered by the Ottoman Empire.[45]

Middle Ages

[[File:|thumbnail|left| Richard I and Philip II, during the Third Crusade]] The Middle Ages were dominated by the two upper echelons of the social structure: the nobility and the clergy. Feudalism developed in France in the Early Middle Ages and soon spread throughout Europe.[46] A struggle for influence between the nobility and the monarchy in England led to the writing of the Magna Carta and the establishment of a parliament.[47] The primary source of culture in this period came from the Roman Catholic Church. Through monasteries and cathedral schools, the Church was responsible for education in much of Europe.[46]

The Papacy reached the height of its power during the High Middle Ages. A East-West Schism in 1054 split the former Roman Empire religiously, with the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Catholic Church in the former Western Roman Empire. In 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade against Muslims occupying Jerusalem and the Holy Land.[48] In Europe itself, the Church organised the Inquisition against heretics. In Spain, the Reconquista concluded with the fall of Granada in 1492, ending over seven centuries of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.[49]

File:Battle of crecy
The Battle of Crécy in 1346, from a manuscript of Jean Froissart's Chronicles; the battle established England as a military power.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Pechenegs and the Kipchaks, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north.[50] Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols.[51] The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, which ruled the southern and central expanses of Russia for over three centuries.[52]

The Great Famine of 1315–1317 was the first crisis that would strike Europe in the late Middle Ages.[53] The period between 1348 and 1420 witnessed the heaviest loss. The population of France was reduced by half.[54][55] Medieval Britain was afflicted by 95 famines,[56] and France suffered the effects of 75 or more in the same period.[57] Europe was devastated in the mid-14th century by the Black Death, one of the most deadly pandemics in human history which killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe alone—a third of the European population at the time.[58]

The plague had a devastating effect on Europe's social structure; it induced people to live for the moment as illustrated by Giovanni Boccaccio in The Decameron (1353). It was a serious blow to the Roman Catholic Church and led to increased persecution of Jews, foreigners, beggars and lepers.[59] The plague is thought to have returned every generation with varying virulence and mortalities until the 18th century.[60] During this period, more than 100 plague epidemics swept across Europe.[61]

Early modern period

The School of Athens by Raphael: Contemporaries such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci (centre) are portrayed as classical scholars

The Renaissance was a period of cultural change originating in Florence and later spreading to the rest of Europe. in the 14th century. The rise of a new humanism was accompanied by the recovery of forgotten classical and Arabic knowledge from monastic libraries and the Islamic world.[62][63][64] The Renaissance spread across Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries: it saw the flowering of art, philosophy, music, and the sciences, under the joint patronage of royalty, the nobility, the Roman Catholic Church, and an emerging merchant class.[65][66][67] Patrons in Italy, including the Medici family of Florentine bankers and the Popes in Rome, funded prolific quattrocento and cinquecento artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.[68][69]

Political intrigue within the Church in the mid-14th century caused the Great Schism. During this forty-year period, two popes—one in Avignon and one in Rome—claimed rulership over the Church. Although the schism was eventually healed in 1417, the papacy's spiritual authority had suffered greatly.[70]

The Church's power was further weakened by the Protestant Reformation (1517–1648), initially sparked by the works of German theologian Martin Luther, a result of the lack of reform within the Church. The Reformation also damaged the Holy Roman Empire's power, as German princes became divided between Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths.[71] This eventually led to the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), which crippled the Holy Roman Empire and devastated much of Germany, killing between 25 and 40 percent of its population.[72] In the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia, France rose to predominance within Europe.[73] The 17th century in southern and eastern Europe was a period of general decline.[74] Eastern Europe experienced more than 150 famines in a 200-year period between 1501 to 1700.[75]

File:Vienna Battle
Battle of Vienna in 1683 broke the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe

The Renaissance and the New Monarchs marked the start of an Age of Discovery, a period of exploration, invention, and scientific development. In the 15th century, Portugal and Spain, two of the greatest naval powers of the time, took the lead in exploring the world.[76][77] Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, and soon after the Spanish and Portuguese began establishing colonial empires in the Americas.[78] France, the Netherlands and England soon followed in building large colonial empires with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

18th and 19th centuries

The Age of Enlightenment was a powerful intellectual movement during the 18th century promoting scientific and reason-based thoughts.[79][80][81] Discontent with the aristocracy and clergy's monopoly on political power in France resulted in the French Revolution and the establishment of the First Republic as a result of which the monarchy and many of the nobility perished during the initial reign of terror.[82] Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power in the aftermath of the French Revolution and established the First French Empire that, during the Napoleonic Wars, grew to encompass large parts of Europe before collapsing in 1815 with the Battle of Waterloo.[83][84]

Napoleonic rule resulted in the further dissemination of the ideals of the French Revolution, including that of the nation-state, as well as the widespread adoption of the French models of administration, law, and education.[85][86][87] The Congress of Vienna, convened after Napoleon's downfall, established a new balance of power in Europe centred on the five "Great Powers": the United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Habsburg Austria, and Russia.[88]

This balance would remain in place until the Revolutions of 1848, during which liberal uprisings affected all of Europe except for Russia and Great Britain. These revolutions were eventually put down by conservative elements and few reforms resulted.[89] In 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed; and 1871 saw the unifications of both Italy and Germany as nation-states from smaller principalities.[90]

The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain in the last part of the 18th century and spread throughout Europe. The invention and implementation of new technologies resulted in rapid urban growth, mass employment, and the rise of a new working class.[91] Reforms in social and economic spheres followed, including the first laws on child labour, the legalisation of trade unions,[92] and the abolition of slavery.[93] In Britain, the Public Health Act 1875 was passed, which significantly improved living conditions in many British cities.[94] Europe’s population doubled during the 18th century, from roughly 100 million to almost 200 million, and doubled again during the 19th century.[95] In the 19th century, 70 million people left Europe in migrations to various European colonies abroad and to the United States.[96]

20th century to present

European military alliances during WWI: Central Powers purplish-red, Entente powers grey and neutral countries yellow

Two World Wars and an economic depression dominated the first half of the 20th century. World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918. It started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip.[97] Most European nations were drawn into the war, which was fought between the Entente Powers (France, Belgium, Serbia, Portugal, Russia, the United Kingdom, and later Italy, Greece, Romania, and the United States) and the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire). The War left around 40 million civilians and military dead.[98] Over 60 million European soldiers were mobilised from 1914–1918.[99]

Partly as a result of its defeat Russia was plunged into the Russian Revolution, which threw down the Tsarist monarchy and replaced it with the communist Soviet Union.[100] Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire collapsed and broke up into separate nations, and many other nations had their borders redrawn. The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I in 1919, was harsh towards Germany, upon whom it placed full responsibility for the war and imposed heavy sanctions.[101]

Economic instability, caused in part by debts incurred in the First World War and 'loans' to Germany played havoc in Europe in the late 1920s and 1930s. This and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought about the worldwide Great Depression. Helped by the economic crisis, social instability and the threat of communism, fascist movements developed throughout Europe placing Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, Francisco Franco of Spain and Benito Mussolini of Italy in power.[102][103]

File:Hamburg after the 1943
By the end of World War II, the European economy had collapsed with 70% of the industrial infrastructure destroyed.

In 1933, Hitler became the leader of Germany and began to work towards his goal of building Greater Germany. Germany re-expanded and took back the Saarland and Rhineland in 1935 and 1936. In 1938, Austria became a part of Germany too, following the Anschluss. Later that year, Germany annexed the German Sudetenland, which had become a part of Czechoslovakia after the war. This move was highly contested by the other powers, but ultimately permitted in the hopes of avoiding war and appeasing Hitler.

Shortly afterwards, Poland and Hungary started to press for the annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia with Polish and Hungarian majorities. Hitler encouraged the Slovaks to do the same and in early 1939, the remainder of Czechoslovakia was split into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, controlled by Germany, and the Slovak Republic, while other smaller regions went to Poland and Hungary. With tensions mounting between Germany and Poland over the future of Danzig, the Germans turned to the Soviets, and signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, prompting France and the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany on 3 September, opening the European theatre of World War II.[104][105] The Soviet invasion of Poland started on 17 September and Poland fell soon thereafter.

On 24 September, the Soviet Union attacked the Baltic countries and later, Finland. The British hoped to land at Narvik and send troops to aid Finland, but their primary objective in the landing was to encircle Germany and cut the Germans off from Scandinavian resources. Nevertheless, the Germans knew of Britain's plans and got to Narvik first, repulsing the attack. Around the same time, Germany moved troops into Denmark, which left no room for a front except for where the last war had been fought or by landing at sea. The Phoney War continued.

In May 1940, Germany attacked France through the Low Countries. France capitulated in June 1940. However, the British refused to negotiate peace terms with the Germans and the war continued. By August Germany began a bombing offensive on Britain, but failed to convince the Britons to give up.[106] In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the ultimately unsuccessful Operation Barbarossa.[107] On 7 December 1941 Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into the conflict as allies of the British Empire and other allied forces.[108][109]

After the staggering Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, the German offensive in the Soviet Union turned into a continual fallback. In 1944, British and American forces invaded France in the D-Day landings, opening a new front against Germany. Berlin finally fell in 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

The war was the largest and most destructive in human history, with 60 million dead across the world.[110] More than 40 million people in Europe had lost their lives by the time World War II ended,[111] including between 11 and 17 million people who perished during the Holocaust.[112] The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties.[113] By the end of World War II, Europe had more than 40 million refugees.[114] Several post-war expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe displaced a total of about 20 million people.[115]

The Schuman Declaration (9 May 1950) lead to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. It began the integration process which today comprises the European Union of 27 democratic countries in Europe

World War I and especially World War II diminished the eminence of Western Europe in world affairs. After World War II the map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference and divided into two blocs, the Western countries and the communist Eastern bloc, separated by what was later called by Winston Churchill an "iron curtain". The United States and Western Europe established the NATO alliance and later the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe established the Warsaw Pact.[116]

The two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, became locked in a fifty-year long Cold War, centred on nuclear proliferation. At the same time decolonisation, which had already started after World War I, gradually resulted in the independence of most of the European colonies in Asia and Africa.[4] In the 1980s the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Solidarity movement in Poland accelerated the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the end of the Cold War. Germany was reunited, after the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the maps of Eastern Europe were redrawn once more.[117] European integration also grew in the post-World War II years. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 established the European Economic Community between six Western European states with the goal of a unified economic policy and common market.[118] In 1967 the EEC, European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom formed the European Community, which in 1993 became the European Union. The EU established a parliament, court and central bank and introduced the euro as a unified currency.[119] In 2004 and 2007, Eastern European countries began joining, expanding the EU to its current size of 27 European countries, and once more making Europe a major economical and political centre of power.[120]

Geography and extent

File:Herodotus World
Reconstruction of Herodotus' world map

[[File:|thumb|left|Satellite image of Caucasus Mountains, Black Sea (l.) and Caspian Sea (r.)]] Physiographically, Europe is the northwestern constituent of the larger landmass known as Eurasia, or Afro-Eurasia: Asia occupies the eastern bulk of this continuous landmass and all share a common continental shelf. Europe's eastern frontier is now commonly delineated by the Ural Mountains in Russia.[14]

The first border definition was introduced in 5th Century B.C. by the "father of history" Herodotus, when he regarded Europe to be extending to the Eastern Ocean, and being as long as (and much larger than) Africa and Asia together. He marked the borders between Europe and Asia on Kura River and Rioni River in Transcaucasia.[121] The 1st century AD geographer Strabo, took the River Don "Tanais" to be the boundary to the Black Sea,[122] as did early Judaic sources.[citation needed]

The southeast boundary with Asia is not universally defined, with the Ural River, or alternatively, the Emba River most commonly serving as possible boundaries. The boundary continues to the Caspian Sea, the crest of the Caucasus Mountains or, alternatively, the Kura River in the Caucasus, and on to the Black Sea; the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles, and the Aegean Sea conclude the Asian boundary. The Mediterranean Sea to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean; Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (North America) than mainland Europe, is generally included in Europe.

Because of sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe's boundary; in some sources, some territories are not included in Europe, while other sources include them. For instance, geographers from Russia and other post-Soviet states generally include the Urals in Europe while including Caucasia in Asia. Similarly, Cyprus is approximate to Anatolia (or Asia Minor), but is often considered part of Europe and currently is a member state of the EU. In addition, Malta was considered an island of Africa for centuries.[123]

Physical geography

File:Europe topography map
Relief map of Europe and surrounding regions

Land relief in Europe shows great variation within relatively small areas. The southern regions are more mountainous, while moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyrenees and Carpathians, through hilly uplands, into broad, low northern plains, which are vast in the east. This extended lowland is known as the Great European Plain, and at its heart lies the North German Plain. An arc of uplands also exists along the north-western seaboard, which begins in the western parts of the islands of Britain and Ireland, and then continues along the mountainous, fjord-cut, spine of Norway.

This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as the Iberian Peninsula and the Italian Peninsula contain their own complex features, as does mainland Central Europe itself, where the relief contains many plateaus, river valleys and basins that complicate the general trend. Sub-regions like Iceland, Britain and Ireland are special cases. The former is a land unto itself in the northern ocean which is counted as part of Europe, while the latter are upland areas that were once joined to the mainland until rising sea levels cut them off.


Biomes of Europe and surrounding regions:
     tundra      alpine tundra      taiga      montane forest
     temperate broadleaf forest      mediterranean forest      temperate steppe      dry steppe

Europe lies mainly in the temperate climate zones, being subjected to prevailing westerlies.

The climate is milder in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the globe due to the influence of the Gulf Stream.[124] The Gulf Stream is nicknamed "Europe's central heating", because it makes Europe's climate warmer and wetter than it would otherwise be. The Gulf Stream not only carries warm water to Europe's coast but also warms up the prevailing westerly winds that blow across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean.

Therefore the average temperature throughout the year of Naples is 16 °C (60.8 °F), while it is only 12 °C (53.6 °F) in New York City which is almost on the same latitude. Berlin, Germany; Calgary, Canada; and Irkutsk, in the Asian part of Russia, lie on around the same latitude; January temperatures in Berlin average around 8 °C (15 °F) higher than those in Calgary, and they are almost 22 °C (40 °F) higher than average temperatures in Irkutsk.[124]


The Geology of Europe is hugely varied and complex, and gives rise to the wide variety of landscapes found across the continent, from the Scottish Highlands to the rolling plains of Hungary.[125]

Europe's most significant feature is the dichotomy between highland and mountainous Southern Europe and a vast, partially underwater, northern plain ranging from Ireland in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. These two halves are separated by the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and Alps/Carpathians. The northern plains are delimited in the west by the Scandinavian Mountains and the mountainous parts of the British Isles. Major shallow water bodies submerging parts of the northern plains are the Celtic Sea, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea complex and Barents Sea.

The northern plain contains the old geological continent of Baltica, and so may be regarded geologically as the "main continent", while peripheral highlands and mountainous regions in the south and west constitute fragments from various other geological continents. Most of the older geology of Western Europe existed as part of the ancient microcontinent Avalonia.

Geological history

The geological history of Europe traces back to the formation of the Baltic Shield (Fennoscandia) and the Sarmatian craton, both around 2.25 billion years ago, followed by the Volgo-Uralia shield, the three together leading to the East European craton (≈ Baltica) which became a part of the supercontinent Columbia. Around 1.1 billion years ago, Baltica and Arctica (as part of the Laurentia block) became joined to Rodinia, later resplitting around 550 million years ago to reform as Baltica. Around 440 million years ago Euramerica was formed from Baltica and Laurentia; a further joining with Gondwana then leading to the formation of Pangea. Around 190 million years ago, Gondwana and Laurasia split apart due to the widening of the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, and very soon afterwards, Laurasia itself split up again, into Laurentia (North America) and the Eurasian continent. The land connection between the two persisted for a considerable time, via Greenland, leading to interchange of animal species. From around 50 million years ago, rising and falling sea levels have determined the actual shape of Europe, and its connections with continents such as Asia. Europe's present shape dates to the late Tertiary period about five million years ago.[126]


File:Europe biogeography
Biogeographic regions of Europe and bordering regions
File:Floristic regions in Europe (english).png
Floristic regions of Europe and neighbouring areas, according to Wolfgang Frey and Rainer Lösch

Having lived side-by-side with agricultural peoples for millennia, Europe's animals and plants have been profoundly affected by the presence and activities of man. With the exception of Fennoscandia and northern Russia, few areas of untouched wilderness are currently found in Europe, except for various national parks.

The main natural vegetation cover in Europe is mixed forest. The conditions for growth are very favourable. In the north, the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift warm the continent. Southern Europe could be described as having a warm, but mild climate. There are frequent summer droughts in this region. Mountain ridges also affect the conditions. Some of these (Alps, Pyrenees) are oriented east-west and allow the wind to carry large masses of water from the ocean in the interior. Others are oriented south-north (Scandinavian Mountains, Dinarides, Carpathians, Apennines) and because the rain falls primarily on the side of mountains that is oriented towards sea, forests grow well on this side, while on the other side, the conditions are much less favourable. Few corners of mainland Europe have not been grazed by livestock at some point in time, and the cutting down of the pre-agricultural forest habitat caused disruption to the original plant and animal ecosystems.

Probably eighty to ninety per cent of Europe was once covered by forest.[127] It stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean. Though over half of Europe's original forests disappeared through the centuries of deforestation, Europe still has over one quarter of its land area as forest, such as the taiga of Scandinavia and Russia, mixed rainforests of the Caucasus and the Cork oak forests in the western Mediterranean. During recent times, deforestation has been slowed and many trees have been planted. However, in many cases monoculture plantations of conifers have replaced the original mixed natural forest, because these grow quicker. The plantations now cover vast areas of land, but offer poorer habitats for many European forest dwelling species which require a mixture of tree species and diverse forest structure. The amount of natural forest in Western Europe is just 2–3% or less, in European Russia 5–10%. The country with the smallest percentage of forested area (excluding the micronations) is Iceland (1%), while the most forested country is Finland (77%).[128]

In temperate Europe, mixed forest with both broadleaf and coniferous trees dominate. The most important species in central and western Europe are beech and oak. In the north, the taiga is a mixed sprucepinebirch forest; further north within Russia and extreme northern Scandinavia, the taiga gives way to tundra as the Arctic is approached. In the Mediterranean, many olive trees have been planted, which are very well adapted to its arid climate; Mediterranean Cypress is also widely planted in southern Europe. The semi-arid Mediterranean region hosts much scrub forest. A narrow east-west tongue of Eurasian grassland (the steppe) extends eastwards from Ukraine and southern Russia and ends in Hungary and traverses into taiga to the north.

File:Hoehlenloewe CaveLion
Cave lion became extinct in southeastern Europe about 2,000 years ago

Glaciation during the most recent ice age and the presence of man affected the distribution of European fauna. As for the animals, in many parts of Europe most large animals and top predator species have been hunted to extinction. The woolly mammoth was extinct before the end of the Neolithic period. Today wolves (carnivores) and bears (omnivores) are endangered. Once they were found in most parts of Europe. However, deforestation and hunting caused these animals to withdraw further and further. By the Middle Ages the bears' habitats were limited to more or less inaccessible mountains with sufficient forest cover. Today, the brown bear lives primarily in the Balkan peninsula, Scandinavia, and Russia; a small number also persist in other countries across Europe (Austria, Pyrenees etc.), but in these areas brown bear populations are fragmented and marginalised because of the destruction of their habitat. In addition, polar bears may be found on Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago far north of Scandinavia. The wolf, the second largest predator in Europe after the brown bear, can be found primarily in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, with a handful of packs in pockets of Western Europe (Scandinavia, Spain, etc.).

[[File:|thumb|Once roaming the great temperate forests of Eurasia, European bison now live in nature preserves in Poland, Russia, and other parts of Eastern Europe]]

European wild cat, foxes (especially the red fox), jackal and different species of martens, hedgehogs, different species of reptiles (like snakes such as vipers and grass snakes) and amphibians, different birds (owls, hawks and other birds of prey).

Important European herbivores are snails, larvae, fish, different birds, and mammals, like rodents, deer and roe deer, boars, and living in the mountains, marmots, steinbocks, chamois among others.

The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on the islands of the Mediterranean.

Sea creatures are also an important part of European flora and fauna. The sea flora is mainly phytoplankton. Important animals that live in European seas are zooplankton, molluscs, echinoderms, different crustaceans, squids and octopuses, fish, dolphins, and whales.

Biodiversity is protected in Europe through the Council of Europe's Bern Convention, which has also been signed by the European Community as well as non-European states.


File:Demographics of
Population growth and decline in and around Europe[129]

Since the Renaissance, Europe has had a major influence in culture, economics and social movements in the world. The most significant inventions had their origins in the Western world, primarily Europe and the United States.[130] Some current and past issues in European demographics have included religious emigration, race relations, economic immigration, a declining birth rate and an aging population.

In some countries, such as Ireland and Poland, access to abortion is currently limited; in the past, such restrictions and also restrictions on artificial birth control were commonplace throughout Europe. Abortion remains illegal on the island of Malta where Catholicism is the state religion. Furthermore, three European countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland) and the Autonomous Community of Andalusia (Spain)[131][132] have allowed a limited form of voluntary euthanasia for some terminally ill people.

In 2005, the population of Europe was estimated to be 731 million according to the United Nations,[133] which is slightly more than one-ninth of the world's population. A century ago, Europe had nearly a quarter of the world's population.[134] The population of Europe has grown in the past century, but in other areas of the world (in particular Africa and Asia) the population has grown far more quickly.[133] Among the continents, Europe has a relatively high population density, second only to Asia. The most densely populated country in Europe is the Netherlands, ranking third in the world after Bangladesh and South Korea. Pan and Pfeil (2004) count 87 distinct "peoples of Europe", of which 33 form the majority population in at least one sovereign state, while the remaining 54 constitute ethnic minorities.[135]

According to UN population projection, Europe's population may fall to about 7% of world population by 2050, or 653 million people (medium variant, 556 to 777 million in low and high variants, respectively).[133] Within this context, significant disparities exist between regions in relation to fertility rates. The average number of children per female of child bearing age is 1.52.[136] According to some sources,[137] this rate is higher among Muslims in Europe. The UN predicts the steady population decline of vast areas of Eastern Europe.[138] The Russia's population is declining by at least 700,000 people each year.[139] The country now has 13,000 uninhabited villages.[140]

Europe is home to the highest number of migrants of all global regions at 70.6 million people, the IOM's report said.[141] In 2005, the EU had an overall net gain from immigration of 1.8 million people, despite having one of the highest population densities in the world. This accounted for almost 85% of Europe's total population growth.[142] The European Union plans to open the job centres for legal migrant workers from Africa.[143][144] In 2008, 696,000 persons were given citizenship of an EU27 member state, a decrease from 707,000 the previous year. The largest groups that acquired citizenship of an EU member state were citizens of Morocco, Turkey, Ecuador, Algeria and Iraq.[145]

Emigration from Europe began with Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and French and English settlers in the 17th century.[146] But numbers remained relatively small until waves of mass emigration in the 19th century, when millions of poor families left Europe.[147]

Today, large populations of European descent are found on every continent. European ancestry predominates in North America, and to a lesser degree in South America (particularly in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Centro-Sul of Brazil). Also, Australia and New Zealand have large European derived populations. Africa has no countries with European-derived majorities, but there are significant minorities, such as the White South Africans. In Asia, European-derived populations (specifically Russians) predominate in Northern Asia.

Political geography

File:Map of Europe (political).png
Europe according to a widely accepted definition is shown in green (countries sometimes associated with European culture in dark blue, Asian parts of European states in light blue).
File:Europe countries map en
Modern political map of Europe and the surrounding region
File:Europe subregion map UN
Regional grouping according to the UN
File:EU27-candidate countries
European Union and its candidate countries

[[File:|thumb|right|250px|Council of Europe nations]]

File:EU and
Map showing European membership of the EU and NATO

According to different definitions, the territories may be subject to various categorisations. The 27 European Union member states are highly integrated economically and politically; the European Union itself forms part of the political geography of Europe. The table below shows the scheme for geographic subregions used by the United Nations,[148] alongside the regional grouping published in the CIA factbook. The socio-geographical data included are per sources in cross-referenced articles.

Name of country, with flag Area
(1 July 2002 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
 Albania 28,748 3,600,523 125.2 Tirana
 Andorra 468 68,403 146.2 Andorra la Vella
 Armenia k[›] 29,800 3,229,900 101 Yerevan
 Austria 83,858 8,169,929 97.4 Vienna
 Azerbaijan l[›] 86,600 9,000,000 97 Baku
 Belarus 207,600 10,335,382 49.8 Minsk
File:Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Belgium 30,510 10,274,595 336.8 Brussels
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,129 4,448,500 77.5 Sarajevo
 Bulgaria 110,910 7,621,337 68.7 Sofia
 Croatia 56,542 4,437,460 77.7 Zagreb
 Cyprus e[›] 9,251 788,457 85 Nicosia
 Czech Republic 78,866 10,256,760 130.1 Prague
 Denmark 43,094 5,368,854 124.6 Copenhagen
 Estonia 45,226 1,415,681 31.3 Tallinn
 Finland 336,593 5,157,537 15.3 Helsinki
 France h[›] 547,030 59,765,983 109.3 Paris
 Georgia m[›] 69,700 4,661,473 64 Tbilisi
 Germany 357,021 83,251,851 233.2 Berlin
 Greece 131,940 10,645,343 80.7 Athens
 Hungary 93,030 10,075,034 108.3 Budapest
Template:Country data Iceland 103,000 307,261 2.7 Reykjavík
 Ireland 70,280 4,234,925 60.3 Dublin
 Italy 301,230 58,751,711 191.6 Rome
Template:Country data Kazakhstan j[›] 2,724,900 15,217,711 5.6 Astana
 Latvia 64,589 2,366,515 36.6 Riga
 Liechtenstein 160 32,842 205.3 Vaduz
 Lithuania 65,200 3,601,138 55.2 Vilnius
 Luxembourg 2,586 448,569 173.5 Luxembourg
 Republic of Macedonia 25,713 2,054,800 81.1 Skopje
 Malta 316 397,499 1,257.9 Valletta
 Moldova b[›] 33,843 4,434,547 131.0 Chişinău
 Monaco 1.95 31,987 16,403.6 Monaco
 Montenegro 13,812 616,258 44.6 Podgorica
 Netherlands i[›] 41,526 16,318,199 393.0 Amsterdam
 Norway 324,220 4,525,116 14.0 Oslo
 Poland 312,685 38,625,478 123.5 Warsaw
 Portugal f[›] 91,568 10,409,995 110.1 Lisbon
 Romania 238,391 21,698,181 91.0 Bucharest
 Russia c[›] 17,075,400 142,200,000 26.8 Moscow
 San Marino 61 27,730 454.6 San Marino
 Serbia[149] 88,361 7,495,742 89.4 Belgrade
 Slovakia 48,845 5,422,366 111.0 Bratislava
 Slovenia 20,273 1,932,917 95.3 Ljubljana
 Spain 504,851 45,061,274 89.3 Madrid
 Sweden 449,964 9,090,113 19.7 Stockholm
 Switzerland 41,290 7,507,000 176.8 Bern
 Turkey n[›] 783,562 71,517,100 93 Ankara
 Ukraine 603,700 48,396,470 80.2 Kiev
 United Kingdom 244,820 61,100,835 244.2 London
 Vatican City 0.44 900 2,045.5 Vatican City
Total 10,180,000o[›] 731,000,000o[›] 70

Within the above-mentioned states are several regions, enjoying broad autonomy, as well as several de facto independent countries with limited international recognition or unrecognised. None of them are UN members:

Name of territory, with flag Area
(1 July 2002 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
 Abkhazia r[›] 8,432 216,000 29 Sukhumi
Template:Country data Åland (Finland) 1,552 26,008 16.8 Mariehamn
 Faroe Islands (Denmark) 1,399 46,011 32.9 Tórshavn
 Gibraltar (UK) 5.9 27,714 4,697.3 Gibraltar
 Guernsey d[›] (UK) 78 64,587 828.0 St. Peter Port
 Isle of Man d[›] (UK) 572 73,873 129.1 Douglas
 Jersey d[›] (UK) 116 89,775 773.9 Saint Helier
 Kosovo p[›] 10,887 [150] 1,804,838 220 Pristina
 Nagorno-Karabakh 11,458 138,800 12 Stepanakert
 Northern Cyprus 3,355 265,100 78 Nicosia
 South Ossetia r[›] 3,900 70,000 18 Tskhinvali
File:Flag of Svalbard and Jan
Mayen Islands
62,049 2,868 0.046 Longyearbyen
 Transnistria b[›] 4,163 537,000 133 Tiraspol


File:Europe gdp
European and bordering nations by GDP (nominal) per capita in 2006

As a continent, the economy of Europe is currently the largest on Earth and it is the richest region as measured by assets under management with over $32.7 trillion compared to North America's $27.1 trillion in 2008.[151] In 2009 Europe remained the wealthiest region. Its $37.1 trillion in assets under management represented one-third of the world’s wealth. It was one of several regions where wealth surpassed its precrisis year-end peak.[152] As with other continents, Europe has a large variation of wealth among its countries. The richer states tend to be in the West; some of the Eastern economies are still emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

The European Union, an intergovernmental body composed of 27 European states, comprises the largest single economic area in the world. Currently, 16 EU countries share the euro as a common currency. Five European countries rank in the top ten of the worlds largest national economies in GDP (PPP). This includes (ranks according to the CIA): Germany (5), the UK (6), Russia (7), France (8), and Italy (10).[153]

Pre–1945: Industrial growth

Capitalism has been dominant in the Western world since the end of feudalism.[154] From Britain, it gradually spread throughout Europe.[155] The Industrial Revolution started in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom in the late 18th century,[156] and the 19th century saw Western Europe industrialise. Economies were disrupted by World War I but by the beginning of World War II they had recovered and were having to compete with the growing economic strength of the United States. World War II, again, damaged much of Europe's industries.

1945–1990: The Cold War

[[File:|thumb|right|Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.]] After World War II the economy of the UK was in a state of ruin,[157] and continued to suffer relative economic decline in the following decades.[158] Italy was also in a poor economic condition but regained a high level of growth by the 1950s. West Germany recovered quickly and had doubled production from pre-war levels by the 1950s.[159] France also staged a remarkable comeback enjoying rapid growth and modernisation; later on Spain, under the leadership of Franco, also recovered, and the nation recorded huge unprecedented economic growth beginning in the 1960s in what is called the Spanish miracle.[160] The majority of Eastern European states came under the control of the USSR and thus were members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).[161]

The states which retained a free-market system were given a large amount of aid by the United States under the Marshall Plan.[162] The western states moved to link their economies together, providing the basis for the EU and increasing cross border trade. This helped them to enjoy rapidly improving economies, while those states in COMECON were struggling in a large part due to the cost of the Cold War. Until 1990, the European Community was expanded from 6 founding members to 12. The emphasis placed on resurrecting the West German economy led to it overtaking the UK as Europe's largest economy.

1991–2007: Integration and reunification

With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1991 the Eastern states had to adapt to a free market system. There were varying degrees of success with Central European countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia adapting reasonably quickly, while eastern states like Ukraine and Russia taking far longer. Western Europe helped Eastern Europe by forming economic ties with it.[citation needed]

After East and West Germany were reunited in 1990, the economy of West Germany struggled as it had to support and largely rebuild the infrastructure of East Germany. Yugoslavia lagged farthest behind as it was ravaged by war and in 2003 there were still many EU and NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with only Slovenia making any real progress.

By the millennium change, the EU dominated the economy of Europe comprising the five largest European economies of the time namely Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Spain. In 1999 12 of the 15 members of the EU joined the Eurozone replacing their former national currencies by the common euro. The three who chose to remain outside the Eurozone were: the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Sweden.

2008–2010: Recession

The Eurozone entered its first official recession in the third quarter of 2008, official figures confirmed in January 2009.[163] While beginning in the United States the late-2000s recession spread to Europe rapidly and has affected much of the region.[164] The official unemployment rate in the 16 countries that use the euro rose to 9.5% in May 2009.[165] Europe's young workers have been especially hard hit.[166] In the first quarter of 2009, the unemployment rate in the EU27 for those aged 15–24 was 18.3%.[167]

In early 2010 fears of a sovereign debt crisis[168] developed concerning some countries in Europe, especially Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.[169] As a result, measures were taken especially for Greece by the leading countries of the Eurozone.[170]


[[File:|right|thumb|Main linguistic groups of Europe by majority of native speakers per country: Germanic in green, Romance in blue, Slavic in red]] European languages mostly fall within three Indo-European language groups: the Romance languages, derived from the Latin language of the Roman Empire; the Germanic languages, whose ancestor language came from southern Scandinavia; the Baltic languages and the Slavic languages.[126] While having the majority of its vocabulary descended from Romance languages, the English language is classified as a Germanic language.

Romance languages are spoken primarily in south-western Europe as well as in Romania and Moldova. Germanic languages are spoken in north-western Europe and some parts of Central Europe. Slavic languages are spoken in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe.[126]

Many other languages outside the three main groups exist in Europe. Other Indo-European languages include the Baltic group (i.e., Latvian and Lithuanian), the Celtic group (i.e., Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton[126]), Greek, Albanian, and Armenian. A distinct group of Uralic languages are Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian, spoken in the respective countries as well as in parts of Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Slovakia. Other Non-Indo-European languages are Maltese (the only Semitic language official to the EU), Basque, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Turkish in Eastern Thrace, and the languages of minority nations in Russia.

Multilingualism and the protection of regional and minority languages are recognised political goals in 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.

File:Europe religion map
Predominant religions in Europe and neighbouring regions:      Roman Catholic Christianity      Eastern Orthodox Christianity      Protestant Christianity      Sunni Islam      Shia Islam      Buddhism      Judaism


Historically, religion in Europe has been a major influence on European art, culture, philosophy and law. The majority religion in Europe is Christianity as practiced by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches. Following these is Islam concentrated mainly in the south east (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, North Cyprus, Turkey and Azerbaijan), and Tibetan Buddhism, found in Kalmykia. Other religions including Judaism and Hinduism are minority religions. Europe is a relatively secular continent and has the largest number and proportion of irreligious, agnostic and atheistic people in the Western world, with a particularly high number of self-described non-religious people in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Sweden, Germany (East), and France.[171]


The culture of Europe can be described as a series of overlapping cultures; cultural mixes exist across the continent. There are cultural innovations and movements, sometimes at odds with each other. Thus the question of "common culture" or "common values" is complex.

See also

Europe portal


^ a: Continental regions as per UN categorisations/map. Depending on definitions, various territories cited below may be in one or both of Europe and Asia, or Africa.
^ b: Transnistria, internationally recognised as being a legal part of the Republic of Moldova, although de facto control is exercised by its internationally unrecognised government which declared independence from Moldova in 1990.
^ c: Russia is considered a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. However the population and area figures include the entire state.
^ d: Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey are Crown Dependencies of the United Kingdom. Other Channel Islands legislated by the Bailiwick of Guernsey include Alderney and Sark.
^ e: Cyprus is sometimes considered transcontinental country. Physiographically entirely in Western Asia it has strong historical and sociopolitical connections with Europe. The population and area figures refer to the entire state, including the de facto independent part Northern Cyprus.
^ f: Figures for Portugal include the Azores and Madeira archipelagos, both in Northern Atlantic.
^ g: Figures for Serbia include Kosovo, a province that unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008, and whose sovereign status is unclear.
^ h: Figures for France include only metropolitan France: some politically integral parts of France are geographically located outside Europe.
^ i: Netherlands population for July 2004. Population and area details include European portion only: Netherlands and two entities outside Europe (Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, in the Caribbean) constitute the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the official capital, while The Hague is the administrative seat.
^ j: Kazakhstan is physiographically considered a transcontinental country in Central Asia (UN region) and Eastern Europe, with European territory west of the Ural Mountains and both the Ural and Emba rivers. However, area and population figures refer to the entire country.
^ k: Armenia is physiographically entirely in Western Asia, but it has strong historical and sociopolitical connections with Europe. The population and area figures include the entire state respectively.
^ l: Azerbaijan is often considered a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. However the population and area figures are for the entire state. This includes the exclave of Nakhchivan and the region Nagorno-Karabakh that has declared, and de facto achieved, independence. Nevertheless, it is not recognised de jure by sovereign states.
^ m: Georgia is often considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia and Eastern Europe. However, the population and area figures include the entire state. This also includes Georgian estimates for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that have declared and de facto achieved independence. The International recognition, however, is limited.
^ n: Turkey is physiographically considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia and Eastern Europe. However the population and area figures include the entire state, both the European and Asian portions.
^ o: The total figures for area and population include only European portions of transcontinental countries. The precision of these figures is compromised by the ambiguous geographical extent of Europe and the lack of references for European portions of transcontinental countries.
^ p: Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008. Its sovereign status is unclear. Its population is July 2009 CIA estimate.
^ r: Abkhazia and South Ossetia unilaterally declared their independence from Georgia on 25 August 1990 and 28 November 1991 respectively. Their sovereign status is unclear. Population figures stated as of 2003 census and 2000 estimates respectively.
^ Russia Khazakstan: Russia and Khazakstan are first and second largest but both these figures include European and Asian territories


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  169. ^ Brian Blackstone, Tom Lauricella, and Neil Shah (5 February 2010). "Global Markets Shudder: Doubts About U.S. Economy and a Debt Crunch in Europe Jolt Hopes for a Recovery". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  170. ^ Lauren Frayer Contributor. "European Leaders Try to Calm Fears Over Greek Debt Crisis and Protect Euro". AOL News. Retrieved 2 June 2010. 
  171. ^ Dogan, Mattei (1998). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "The Decline of Traditional Values in Western Europe"]. International Journal of Comparative Sociology (Sage) 39: 77–90. doi:10.1177/002071529803900106. 

Further reading

  • Williams, Glyndwr (1968) "The Expansion of Europe in the Eighteenth Century". London, Blandford Press, SRN 7-137-32723-5.

External links


Redirecting to European Union

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Europe article)

From Wikitravel

Europe [1] encompasses an area of 10,400,000 km² (4,000,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. It is one of the world’s seven continents. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations. It's easy to see why - a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different Phrasebook.



Europe probably has more human history packed into it than any place on the earth. Starting with ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, the spread of Christianity, the Viking Age, through the Renaissance, to the development of the nation states which explored the world and built empires (Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands), and in the past century the World Wars and the growth of the European Union, ... in Europe you won't go short on history.


Europe's longest river is the Volga, which meanders 3,530 km (2,193 miles) through Russia, and flows into the Caspian Sea. Europe's highest point is Russia's Mt. Elbrus, which rises to 5,642 m (18,510 feet) above sea level. Western Europe's highest point is Mont Blanc in the French-Italian Alps, which rises to 4,810 m (15,771 feet) above sea level. Other important high mountain ranges include the Pyrenees between France and Spain and the Carpathians that run through Central Europe to the Balkans. Cyprus is also considered part of Europe.


Europe's climate ranges from subtropical near the Mediterranean Sea in the south, to subarctic near the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean in the northern latitudes. There is much here for the traveller to enjoy, with a bewildering array of diversity and languages and culture, cosmopolitan cities and spectacular scenery, let alone some of the leading cities of the world.

Map of Europe's regions
Map of Europe's regions
Baltic states
Britain and Ireland
Central Europe
France and the Benelux
Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus
Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus

See also European Microstates, Dependencies and Disputed Territories

Note: Parts of Russia, Turkey and the Caucasus are sometimes considered to be a part of Asia due to both culture, history and geography.


These are the nine most visited European cities, in order of popularity:

  • Paris - The capital of romance (and France) on the banks of the Seine
  • London - Britain's vibrant and truly multicultural capital
  • Istanbul - The only major city to span two continents and a fascinating melting pot of East and West.
  • Rome - The eternal city of seven hills and two and a half thousand years of history
  • Barcelona - Gaudi's cosmopolitan home on Mediterranean coast
  • Moscow - Europe's largest city is famous for it's nightlife and the iconic Kremlin
  • Prague - Magic city with it's renowned bridges spanning the Vltava River
  • Athens - The cradle of western civilization is teeming with historic monuments
  • Amsterdam - Canals, Rembrandt, Hashish and red laterns, the epicentre of liberal atitudes
  • Alps - Very popular mountain range for skiing, with the Mont Blanc as its highest peak.
  • Cinque Terre National Park, Italy - A gorgeous national park, which connects five picturesque villages.
  • Bialowieza National Park - The last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once spread across the European Plain.
  • Blue Lagoon - Amazing geothermal spa with the water temperature around 40 °C all year round, even in freezing conditions.
  • La Alhambra - Part fortress, part palace, part garden and part government city, a stunning medieval complex overlooking Granada.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle - The well-known fairy-tale castle in the Bavarian highlands.
  • Meteora - Six Eastern Orthodox monasteries built on natural sandstone rock pillars.
  • Plitvice National Park - Beautiful turquoise-colored lakes surrounded by a large forest complex.
  • Stonehenge - The well-known Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monument located on Salisbury Plain.


Europe is a continent of many wildly different countries. A subset of these countries are in the slow and painful process of coming together as the European Union (EU).

Not all EU countries have adopted the euro (€), the European Union single currency (see Buy), while a few countries outside the EU have adopted it. Likewise, most — but not all — EU members and a few non-EU countries have have joined the Schengen agreement, which abolished border controls between them (see Get in). Here is a handy reference table, up to date as of 2009:

Country Symbol Currency EU member Schengen
Time zone³ Eurail InterRail
Albania AL, .al ALL n n CET n n
Andorra AND, .ad EUR n n5 CET n n
Armenia ARM, .am AMD n n +4 n n
Austria A, .at EUR 1995 y CET y y
Belarus BY, .by BYR n n EET n n
Belgium B, .be EUR 1958 y CET y y
Bosnia and Herzegovina BIH, .ba BAM n n CET y y
Bulgaria BG, .bg BGN 2007 n EET n y
Croatia HR, .hr HRK n CET n y
Cyprus CY, .cy EUR 2004 n CET n n
Czech Republic CZ, .cz CZK 2004 y CET n y
Denmark DK, .dk DKK 1973 y CET y y
Estonia EST, .ee EEK 2004 y EET n n
Finland FIN, .fi EUR 1995 y EET y y
France F, .fr EUR 1958 y CET y y
Germany D, .de EUR 1958 y CET y y
Greece GR, .gr EUR 1981 y EET y y
Hungary H, .hu HUF 2004 y CET y y
Iceland IS, .is ISK n y WET n n
Ireland IRL, .ie EUR 1973 n WET y y
Italy I, .it EUR 1958 y CET y y
Kosovo6 KS (.rs) EUR n n CET n n
Latvia LV, .lv LVL 2004 y EET n n
Liechtenstein FL, .li CHF n y CET n n
Lithuania LT, .lt LTL 2004 y EET n n
Luxembourg L, .lu EUR 1958 y CET y y
Macedonia MK, .mk MKD n¹ n CET n y
Malta M, .mt EUR 2004 y CET n n
Moldova MD, .md MDL n n EET n n
Monaco MC, .mc EUR n n5 CET n n
Montenegro MNE, .me (.yu) EUR n CET n y
Netherlands NL, .nl EUR 1958 y CET y y
Norway N, .no NOK n y CET y y
Poland PL, .pl PLN 2004 y CET n y
Portugal P, .pt EUR 1986 y WET y y
Romania RO, .ro RON 2007 n EET y y
Russia RU, .ru (.su) RUB n n MSK4 n n
San Marino RSM, .sm EUR n n5 CET n n
Serbia SRB, .rs (.yu) RSD2 n n CET n y
Slovakia SK, .sk EUR 2004 y CET n y
Slovenia SLO, .si EUR 2004 y CET n y
Spain E, .es EUR 1986 y CET y y
Sweden S, .se SEK 1995 y CET y y
Switzerland CH, .ch CHF n y CET y y
Turkey TR, .tr TRY n EET n y
Ukraine UA, .ua UAH n n EET n n
United Kingdom GB, .uk GBP 1973 n WET n y
Vatican City V, .va EUR n n5 CET n n

¹ Official EU applicant countries.

² Kosovo uses the Euro as its official currency.

³ Winter time. In summer (last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October): WET → WEST (UTC+0 → +1), CET → CEST (+1 → +2), EET → EEST (+2 → +3)

4 Russia uses multiple time zones. EET in Kaliningrad Oblast, MSK (UTC+3) in Moscow, up to UTC+12 on Chukotka and Kamchatka.

5 Officially not a Schengen member, but Schengen visa holders are generally allowed entry.

6 Independence disputed, claimed by Serbia.

Get in

Rules for entering Europe depend on where you are going. EU/EFTA citizens can travel freely throughout the continent (except Russia, Belarus and the Caucasus), so the following assumes you are not one.

If you are entering a Schengen country and you plan to visit only other Schengen countries, you need only one Schengen visa. As of January 2010 only the citizens of the following non-EU/EEA/Swiss countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area; note that they must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work while in the EU: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.

Note that

  • while British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area,
  • British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general do require visas.

However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.

Further note that

(*) Macedonian, Montenegrin and Serbian citizens need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel and

(**) Serbian citizens with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (Serbs residing in Kosovo) still do need a visa.

It is important to note that the 90 days visa-free stay applies for the whole Schengen area, i.e. it is not 90 days per country as some assume. Citizens of the above countries who wish to travel around Europe for longer than 90 days must apply for a residency permit. This can be done in any Schengen country, but Germany or Italy are recommended, because many other countries require applicants to apply from their home countries.

Non-Schengen countries, on the other hand, maintain their own immigration policies. Consult the country article in question for details. If you wish to visit a non-Schengen country and return to the Schengen area, you will need a multiple-entry visa. It should be noted that Bulgaria, Romania, Ireland, and the United Kingdom are EU members, but they are not part of the Schengen Area. To add confusion Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway are not EU members but part of the Schengen area.

The implications of this are simple: countries in the EU maintain similar customs controls. Therefore, one does not need to pass through customs when travelling to a non-Schengen EU country, but they may need to pass through immigration controls. The converse is true for non-EU Schengen countries: you must pass through customs, but not immigration.

By plane

The largest air travel hubs in Europe are, in order, London (LON: LCY, LHR, LGW, STN, LTN), Frankfurt (FRA, HHN), Paris (CDG, ORY), and Madrid (MAD) which in turn have connections to practically everywhere in Europe. However, nearly every European city has direct long-distance flights at least to some destinations elsewhere, and other smaller airports can make sense for specific connections: for example, Vienna (VIE) has a very good network of flights to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, while Helsinki (HEL) is the geographically closest place to transfer if coming in from East Asia. Western Europe is the largest air hub in the world with London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Dublin, Manchester, Brussels all within an hours flying distance from each other. From East Asia, Hong Kong and Bangkok are served by long-haul flights to most major European cities.

By train

The Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing and Vladivostok to Moscow is a classic rail journey. Also after the finalized construction of a railway link between Kazakhstan and China, the Historic Silk Road is becoming increasingly popular with adventurers, trying to beat down a new path, this new Almaty - Urumqi service runs twice per week, and Almaty is easily reached from Moscow by train. Other options include several connections to the middle east, offered by the Turkish Railways (TCDD) [2]. There are weekly services from Istanbul via Ankara to Tehran in Iran, and Damascus in Syria, as well as a sketchy service to Baghdad.

By ship

It is still possible, but expensive, to do the classic transatlantic voyage between the United Kingdom and the United States. The easiest option is by the historic, and only remaining Ocean Liner operator, Cunard Line[3], but expect to pay 1000-2000 USD for the 6 day voyage between Southampton and New York done around 10 times per year in each direction. If your pockets are not deep enough for this price range, your only other options of crossing the Atlantic are pretty much limited to Freighter travel. There are several lines crossing the Mediterranean, the main ports of call in North Africa is Tangier in Morocco and Tunis in Tunisia (See Ferries in the Mediterranean for more details), but there is also a little known option of going via Cyprus where you can use Louis Cruises crossings to Port Said in Egypt and Haifa in Israel as a regular ferry service. Keep in mind though, that you can only do this on routes out of Cyprus, and it requires special arrangements - Varianos Travel in Nicosia seem to be the only tour agency offering this option.

Get around

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the Schengen Agreement. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen Agreement signatory country is valid in all other countries that signed and implemented the treaty. Be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen treaty countries are members of the European Union. See the table above for the current list.

Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks.

Travel to and from a Schengen Agreement country to any other country will result in the normal border checks. Note that, regardless of whether you traveling within Schengen or not, at some airports, airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.

Main article: Rail travel in Europe
A German high-speed ICE train
A German high-speed ICE train

Especially in Western and Central Europe, the trains are fast, efficient and cost-competitive with flying. High-speed trains like the French TGV, the German ICE, the Spanish AVE and the cross-border Eurostar and Thalys services speed along at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) and, when taking into account travel time to the airport and back, are often faster than taking the plane. The flip side is that tickets bought on the spot can be expensive, although there are good discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of various deals. In particular, the Inter Rail (for Europeans) and Eurail (for everybody else) passes offer good value if you plan on traveling extensively around Europe (or even a single region) and want more flexibility than cheap plane tickets can offer.

The most extensive and most reliable train travel planner for all of Europe is the one belonging to the German railways (DB), which can be found here in English.

EU Passenger Rights

European Union (EU) Regulation 261/2004 of 17. February 2005 [4] gives certain rights to passenger on all flights, schedule or charter and flights provided as part of a Package Holiday. It only applies to passengers flying from an EU airport or from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU carrier.

Denied Boarding


  • you have a valid ticket
  • you have a confirmed reservation
  • you have checked in by the deadline given to you by the airline

Then you are entitled to a compensation, which is:

  • €250 if the flight is shorter than 1500 km
  • but only €125 if it is delayed less than 2 hours
  • €400 if the flight is between 1500 km and 3500 km
  • but only €200 if it is delayed less than 3 hours
  • €600 if the flight is longer than 3500 km
  • but only €300 if it is delayed less than 4 hours
  • and a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your initial point of departure, when relevant)
  • or alternative transport to your final destination.

The airline also have to cover the following expenses:

  • two telephone calls or emails, telexes or faxes
  • meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time.
  • hotel accommodation if you are delayed overnight.

Usually they will give you a prepaid phone card, and vouchers for a restaurant and a hotel.

Refund for delayed flight

If your flight is delayed 5 hours or longer you can get a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your initial point of departure, when relevant).

All flights within and from the European Union limit liquids, gels and creams in hand baggage to 100 mL/container, carried in a transparent, zip-lock plastic bag (1L or less). The bag must be presented during security checks and only one bag per passenger is permitted.

Discount airlines

Main article: Discount airlines in Europe

Dozens of budget airlines allow very cheap travel around Europe, often much cheaper than the train or even bus fares for the same journey, although this fact should be balanced with consideration to the enviromental impact of short distant flights and the hassle of the airport experience. Currently the cheapest flights are offered by low cost airlines such as AirBerlin, Germanwings, EasyJet, Tuifly, Ryanair and WizzAir, with the lowest fares usually found on routes which go to or from cities in the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. All of these flights should be booked on the internet well in advance, otherwise the price advantage may become non-existent. Always compare prices with major carriers like British Airways, Austrian Airlines or Lufthansa! Only in very few cases prices are higher than € 80 on any airline when booking a month or more ahead of time (except on very long routes e.g. Dublin - Istanbul). You should also make sure where the airport is located, since some low cost airlines name very small airports by the next major city, even if the distance is up to two hours drive by bus (e.g. Ryan- and Wizzair's Frankfurt-Hahn, which is not Frankfurt/Main International).

By bus

Eurolines[5] connects over 500 destinations, covering the whole of the continent and Morocco. Eurolines allows travelling from Sicily to Helsinki and from Casablanca to Moscow.

Touring[6] (German variant of Eurolines), Sindbad[7] (Polish), Lasta[8] (from Serbia), Linebus[9] (Spanish) and National Express[10] (from the UK) are other options.

For longer distances, travelling by bus often isn't any cheaper than flying with a low cost airline. It's worth considering if you travel at short notice, wish to see the countryside you are traveling through, have heavy luggage, or are keen on reducing your travel-related CO2 emissions.

Main articles: Ferries in the Mediterranean, Ferry routes to British Mainland

The Baltic sea has several lines running between the major cities (for example Gdansk, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga etc). Most ships are very large, parallelling Caribbean cruise liners in size and in service.

In the Atlantic, Smyril Line [11] is the only company sailing to the rather remote North Atlantic islands; Iceland and the Faroe Islands It sails from Denmark, which also host numerous lines to Norway and Sweden. From the British isles a huge number of lines still cross the English channel to France, despite the opening of the channel-tunnel. And there are also numerous services to Denmark, the Benelux and even across the Biscay to Spain. Further south there is a weekly service from Portimão to the Canary Islands via the remote volcanic Madeira island.

In the Mediterranean Sea a large number of ferries and cruise ships operate between Spain Italy and Southern France. And across the Italian peninsular ferries also ply across the Adriatic sea to Croatia and Greece, with Bari as the main terminal (out of many).

And finally The Black Sea also has several ferries plying across it's waters, albeit service can be fairly sketchy at times. Poti Istanbul and Sevastopol are the main ports, but nearly all the Black Sea ports has a ferry going somewhere, but rarely anywhere logical - i.e. often along the coast.

There are also various ferries on the larger lakes and for crossing rivers. Furthermore, there are several regularly running cruise-lines on the larger rivers like the Rhine, Danube and the Volga. And boating excursions within Europe, particularly along the scenic rivers and between many of the islands in the Mediterranean , are an excellent way to combine travel between locations with an adventure along the way. Accommodations range from very basic to extremely luxurious depending upon the company and class of travel selected. Another famous line is the Hurtigruten cruise-ferries which sails all along Norways amazing coastline and fjords.

The ease of driving on the continent varies greatly, and as a general rule east and west of the old iron curtain are two different worlds. Western (old) Europe for the most part have good road conditions and a extensive and well developed highway network, whereas Eastern (new) Europe are still working hard on the great backlog left behind from socialist days. During vacations, especially during summer and Christmas vacations, driving on the highways can be hellish, particularly in Germany (listen for the word Stau in the automated traffic broadcasts).

There are no uniform speed limits across the union, but the fabled free speed limits are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and are now limited to a few sections of rural autobahn in Germany. The majority of highways have a 110-130 kph (70-80 mph) speed limit. For North Americans a major difference is the right lane on highways are not the "fast lane" you're used to, but rather the "passing lane", it's illegal to overtake on the left, so you should only occupy the outer lane when you are overtaking someone, stay there, and you will have other vehicles tailgating while flashing their lights in annoyance. Remember to use turn signals when changing lanes.

Except for priority streets (check the symbol in the table) there is a general duty to give way to traffic from your right in crossings and intersections, and other drivers have every expectation you adhere to this. But in the ubiquitous roundabouts (circles) you find everywhere across the continent, cars already in the circle always have the right of way, don't give way to incoming drivers while in the roundabout, or you will mess up the system, potentially causing some nasty accidents. Finally, don't do right turns on red lights, it's illegal, and because it's not common practice, also dangerous.

Avoid large cities if you are not used to driving in Europe. Most city centres were build long before the introduction of the auto-mobile, and were not meant to cope with the levels of traffic common these days. So for the most part it's a slow, frustrating and potentially dangerous experience, and even then, finding a parking spot can potentially take hours and cost an arm and a leg when you finally find it. Instead Park at the outskirts of town, where it is often free, and use the public transit system instead. If you are renting, try to work around having a car while visiting big cities.

  • Age: Almost everywhere, especially in the EU, you need to be 18 years old to drive, even supervised, and in countries with Learning schemes, it's usually an exhaustive procedure to get a permit, and rarely applicable to foreign citizens anyway. Exceptions include Portugal, Ireland and the UK.
  • Equipment
    • A warning triangle is compulsory nearly anywhere, and so is using it in case of breakdowns.
    • Hi-Visibility (reflective) vests are compulsory in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Spain and gaining popularity elsewhere.
    • Headlamp Adjusters are also compulsory equipment in many countries.
  • Paperwork
    • Original Registration Document is compulsory
    • Motor vehicle insurance certificate is compulsory
    • A black and white, 2-3 letter country identity sticker is compulsory for cars without EU license plates.
    • International driving permit, while it's not compulsory for certain nationalities in some European countries, it's cheap, and could potentially save you from nasty incidents with authorities.

If you plan on renting a car for driving across Europe, it often makes sense to check the rates in different countries rather than just hire a car in the country of arrival. The price differences can be very substantial for longer rentals, to an extent where it can make sense to adjust your travel plans accordingly. I.e. if you plan on travelling around Scandinavia by car, it will often be much cheaper to fly into Germany and rent a car there. Compared to North America, you should be prepared for smaller, but more efficient cars, and automatics are for the most part a rare premium, never expect one without requesting it while placing your order.

In any case driving in Europe is an expensive proposition, gas prices hovers around $7-8 per gallon (€1.30-1.50 per litre) in much of western Europe, while often slightly cheaper in Eastern Europe. Rentals are around 2-3 more expensive than in North America, Highway tolls are very common, city centre congestion charges increasingly so, and even parking can work up to €50 ($70) per day in the most expensive cities. Driving can be an enjoyable and feasible way to see the country side, but most Europeans would find a vacation to say, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, in a rented car completely laughable.

By thumb

Hitchhiking is a common way of travelling in some parts of Europe, especially in former eastern bloc countries. It can be a pleasant way to meet lots of people, and to travel without spending too many euros. Don't forget to check out the tips for hitchhiking.

Note that in the former eastern bloc, you may run into language problems while hitchhiking, especially if you speak only English. It is not advisable to hitchhike in former Yugoslavia, for example between Croatia and Serbia, because you could run into big problems with nationalists. Between Croatia and Slovenia it's not a problem. In Moldova and the Ukraine, it's better to take train or bus. In western Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Germany, it's easy and fast to hitchhike.

  • Music Despite an ever growing competition from the United States and nations with new found wealth, Europe is still the spiritual home of classical music and Opera, and the various European capitals are home to some amazing 'old world' opera houses, where the hundreds of years of history, often enhances the experience into something otherworldly. But if opera singers give you a headache, and you would much rather head-bang, fear not, Europe has more music festivals than your liver will ever hold up to; the Roskilde Festival [12] in Roskilde, Sziget fesztivál [13] in Budapest and finally reigning champion Glastonbury [14] weighing in at 100.000 drunk souls, are widely considered the 3 big ones, but many other ones are not the slightest bit small.
  • Professional Sports Perhaps no other field has seen stronger European integration than sports, most professional sports has Europe wide leagues in place, and nearly every sport has a bi-annual European Championship.
    • Football If you are already a soccer fan the game hardly gets any better than watching your favourite team battle it out against the world's greatest football clubs in the Champions League [15] or the Europa League [16]. Games in the pan European leagues usually takes place mid-week to allow for games in the national leagues to take place during the weekend. For the popular teams the tickets are often old out week's in advance.
    • Basketball The pan European Euroleague [17] is the highest tier of professional basketball in Europe, featuring teams from 18 different European countries and some of the best basketball you'll find outside the NBA. The regular season runs Oct-Jan and play-offs takes place between Jan-May.
    • Handball Also sees a annual pan European tournament, the Champions League [18] taking place every year. While the sport is little known outside Europe, it's one of the most popular sports on the continent. Two teams with seven players each pass and bounce a ball to throw it into the soccer style goal of the opposing team.
    • Cycling Is another sport the enjoys much wider popularity in Europe, than virtually the rest of the world. Hundreds of competitions takes place every year, but the 3 unrivalled events of the year is the Tour de France [19], the Giro d'Italia [20] and the Vuelta a Espania [21], where thousands of thousands of spectators line up along the often hundred kilometre plus routes. The whole season is managed in a league like format called the Protour [22].
  • National Parks - There are more than 360 national parks [23] on the continent, in line with much you may expect from the worlds second most densely populated continent, many are small, some less than a single km², but perhaps surprising to many there are also some huge expansive national parks to explore, The Vatnajokull National Park on Iceland is largest covering around 12,000 km² (7,500 sq miles), and the fascinating national parks of Arctic Svalbard is not trailing far behind, while Yugyd Va National Park in the of the Russian Urals is largest on the mainland itself. In total the national parks of Europe encompasses an area of around 98,000 km² (37,000 sq miles).


Europe is home to some fantastic ski resorts, the Alps is home of some of the best ski resorts outside of the Rockies, and there are hundreds of them. The largest area is Les Portes du Soleil [24], made up of 13 linked ski resorts in Switzerland and France, boasting over 650 km of marked runs. But the fun doesn't stop in the Alps; The Scandinavian Mountains features some of the worlds most civilized and family oriented Skiing area's, but the lower altitude also means it's a trade-of for shorter runs - Åre is the biggest, while way up north Riksgränsen [25] allows skiing well into the summer. Scotland is home of 5 ski resorts, Nevis Range [26] has the highest vertical drop at 1130 meters, while Glenshee [27] is the largest. A surprising option is Sierra Nevada in Spain, fairly large, just hours drive from the Mediterranean coast, and with a season often running into May - you can ski in the Morning, and chill on the beach in the afternoon. To the North the Pyrenees shared with France and Andorra also offers excellent skiing in up to 2,700 meters (8,000 ft) altitude, Domaine Tourmalet [28] is the largest resort in the area with over 100 kms of pistes.

Eastern Europe is seeing increasing popularity since prices are much lower than elsewhere on the continent, the downside is that facilities are not as expansive or modern as elsewhere in Europe, but things are rapidly improving. Slovenia is cheap alternative in the expensive Alps, Kranjska Gora is the largest resort in the country. The Carpathian mountains with the higest runs at almost 2200 meters (7200 ft) is another popular area; Poiana Brasov (Romania, 20 km, 11 lifts [29]) Zakopane (Poland, 30 km, 20 lifts [30]) and Jasna (Slovakia, 29 km, 24 lifts [31]) are the largest and most popular areas in the respective countries.

Eurozone (light-blue unilaterally adopted the euro)
Eurozone (light-blue unilaterally adopted the euro)

The euro (Symbol: €; ISO 4217 code EUR) is the common currency of many countries of the European Union. One euro equals 100 cent; officially referred to as 'euro cent' to differentiate them from their US and other counterparts. Established in 1999 and introduced in cash form on January 1st, 2002, the euro removes the need for money exchange. As such it is not only a boon to pan-European business, but of course also to travellers.

The euro has not been adopted by all EU countries. Those countries which have replaced their own national currencies are commonly called the Eurozone. By law, all EU countries (except Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) have to eventually adopt the euro, with the next round of enlargement now expected around 2012.

Outside the EU, Kosovo and Montenegro have unilaterally adopted the euro, but all other countries still retain their own currencies. Euros are widely accepted in European countries outside the Eurozone, but not universally, and at shops and restaurants the exchange rate is rarely in your favor. (Many hotels, though, price and accept payment in euros.) Money changers will generally give good to excellent exchange rates for the euro, and in a pinch they will be accepted by nearly everybody.

Since it has been only a few years since the introduction of euro cash, some people may still use the old national currency names. They mean euros and cents, so just substitute the two mentally.

It's a VERY BAD idea to accept any of the obsolete currencies. While several countries' banks will still change them into euros, it's a lot of hassle and there is no guarantee that this will be possible everywhere or on short notice. You should also expect to leave your personal information with the bank as a precaution against money laundering.


Throughout Europe, automatic teller machines are readily available. They will accept various European bank cards as well as credit cards. However, be prepared to pay a fee for the service (usually a percentage of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum of few euro). Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.

European ATMs do not usually have letters on the keypad. PINs longer than 4 digits are generally no longer a problem.

Credit cards

Credit card acceptance is not as universal as in the United States, especially in Eastern Europe, but growing steadily. Some countries mandate that merchants check your ID for purchases of as little as €50, and many shops will insist on ID for any credit card transaction.

An increasing number of European countries, notably the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Nordic countries, have moved to a chip and PIN system, where credit cards all have a chip built in and you have to punch in your PIN code instead of signing a receipt. Any store that displays Visa, Mastercard, Amex etc logos is required to accept "traditional" sign-and-swipe cards, so be persistent if they initially refuse, although you may need to escalate to the manager. (With most terminals, swiping your card and simply waiting 20 seconds without entering the PIN will cause them to print out the signing slip.) However, with self-service like gas pumps and ticket vending machines, you may be out of luck.

Stay safe

The biggest risks to your safety in Europe like in any major tourist area are pickpockets and muggings. Using common sense and being aware of your surroundings can help to greatly reduce the risk of these occurrences. Remember alcohol is an integral part of many European cultures but overuse can lead to violence and poor judgment! In general, bars and pubs are not a place where alcohol causes these problems in Europe but it can end up being a big problem on the roads.

Most European countries have very low levels of violence compared to the United States. The main issues are drug use and gang related violence which are most prone in Britain and France, but it's virtually unheard of for any tourists to be involved in such issues. The few "trouble areas" that should be avoided are the run-down suburbs of certain urban areas (particularly in Europe's largest cities, London and Paris) and some places in eastern and southern Europe do have much higher violent crime rates, and can be very dangerous for non locals, but these areas shouldn't be of interest to the average tourist. Central and Western Europe are generally the safest regions.

Europe may be very urban and densely populated in general but as always when traveling in rural and forested / mountainous areas take the proper precautions. All it takes is one wrong turn down a ski piste and you are stranded. Time to take out the cell phone. Did you bring one?

For more information see Common scams which contains many Europe-specific scams.

Stay healthy

There are no specific precautions required for staying healthy in Europe as most restaurants maintain high standards of hygiene and in the majority of countries tap water is safe to drink. However, for more precise details on these matters as well as for general information on emergency care, pharmaceutical regulations and dentistry standards etc, please consult the 'Stay safe' section on specific country articles.

EU/EEA citizens should apply for (or bring) the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which grants you access to state-provided healthcare within the European Union as well as Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein either at reduced cost or free of charge, under the same terms as a resident of the country you are visiting. If you are used to free healthcare in your own country, remember that some member states expect patients to pay towards their treatment, and you may be expected to do the same. And do remember that the EHIC does not equal a travel insurance; it doesn't cover private healthcare, the cost of mountain rescues or repatriation to your home country. Neither does it allow you to go abroad specifically to receive medical care.

If you are not a EU/EEA citizen, remember to buy a travel insurance policy, while some countries does provide free emergency care for visitors, any follow-up treatment and repatriation is your own responsibility, and some countries expect you to foot the entire bill for any treatment yourself - the fabled universal healthcare system does not equal free treatment for non EU citizens.

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also eu, and Eu





  1. (politics, economics) European Union


See also





  1. Abbreviation of États-Unis (United States)


  • Anagrams of eu
  • UE


Up to date as of February 01, 2010
(Redirected to Europe article)

From Wikia Gaming, your source for walkthroughs, games, guides, and more!

Flag of the European Union

Europe is generally not a very good place to live if you're an impatient gamer. All games released here use the PAL format, and almost all games are released last here. This is generally due to the game having to have at least 4 different languages: English, French, German, Spanish, sometimes more. Game releases can take up to a few months to a year to be released here after North America. Sometimes this will allow the game developers to fix more glitches or bugs in the code.

Europe did, however, get The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Spore and a few other games way earlier than North America. In addition, a few games were released in Europe that did not receive a North American release at all, including Terranigma and Vib Ribbon.

All of the countries in Europe, excluding Germany and sometimes the UK, use the PEGI (or Pan European Game Information) content rating system for its games. In the UK the PEGI system is used, but in certain circumstances the BBFC system is used instead. In Germany they use the USK.

They do, however, have pastries, nonexistant drinking ages, lax drug laws, and funny accents so we still love 'em anyway.

This article is a stub. You can help by adding to it.

Stubs are articles that writers have begun work on, but are not yet complete enough to be considered finished articles.

This article uses material from the "Europe" article on the Gaming wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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