Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the westernmost region of Europe, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a cultural entity—the region lying west of Central Europe. Another definition was created during the Cold War and used to describe the non-Communist states of Europe; as a result, geographically central and eastern countries that steered clear of Soviet influence during the Cold War are usually included, while Western members of the former Eastern Bloc are excluded.
In addition, the term has geographic, economic and cultural aspects. Since the end of World War II, the term has been used to describe the high-income developed countries of western Europe, characterized by democratic political systems, mixed economies combining the free market with aspects of the welfare state, alliance with the United States, and membership in NATO.
As Roman domain expanded a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization. In contrast, the western territories largely adopted the Latin language. This cultural and linguistic division was eventually reinforced by the later political east-west division of the Roman Empire
The division between these two was enhanced during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by a number of events. The Western Roman Empire collapsed starting the Early Middle Ages. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire, mostly known as Greek or Byzantine Empire, managed to survive and even to thrive for another 1000 years. The rise of the Frankish Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism that formally divided Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe.
The conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Frankish Empire) led to a change of the importance of Roman Catholic/Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox concept in Europe.
Western Europe's significant historical events include the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther and the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. During the final stages of World War II the future of Europe was decided between the Allies in the 1945 Yalta Conference, between the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin.
Post-war Europe would be divided into two major spheres: the West, influenced by the United States, and the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union. With the onset of the Cold War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain.
This term had been used during World War II by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and later Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk in the last days of the war; however, its use was hugely popularised by Winston Churchill, who used it in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address March 5, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri:
|“||From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.||”|
Although some countries were officially neutral, they were classified according to the nature of their political and economical systems. This division has largely defined the popular perception and understanding of Western Europe and its borders with Eastern Europe till this day.
Eastern Europe, in the view accepted after the second World War, was mainly composed of all the European countries occupied by the Soviet army. It included the German Democratic Republic, widely known as East Germany, formed by the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. All the countries in Eastern Europe had Communist regimes imposed upon them. Most of these countries were officially independent from the Soviet Union, but the practical extent of this independence was quite limited. In some matters many of them were little more than client-states of the Soviet Union.
At the end of World War II almost all the countries of Western Europe received economic assistance from the United States through the Marshall Plan. Later, most joined NATO and/or the European Community or its rival, the European Free Trade Association.
Western Europe is composed of:
Western European Union
Union de l'Europe occidentale
Members • Associate members • Observers • Associate partners
|Membership||10 member states
6 associate member states
5 observer countries
7 associate partner countries
|Establishment||Treaty of Brussels|
|-||Signed||17 March 1948|
The world changed dramatically with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the German Democratic Republic, leading to the German reunification. COMECON and the Warsaw Pact were dissolved, and in 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Several countries which had been part of the Soviet Union regained their full independence.
Although the term Western Europe was largely defined of the Cold War, it still remains much in use. The term is commonly used in the media and in everyday use both in "western" and other regions of Europe.
Western Europe has increasingly less to do with the European Union. The 1995, 2004, and 2007 enlargements saw many post-communist countries joining the EU, and a view that Europe is divided strictly into the West and the East is sometimes considered patronising or pejorative by many in the countries of Central Europe.
The United Nations Statistics Division considers Western Europe to consist of the following nine countries, except in the case of United Nations Regional Groups, in which the term also includes northern and southern Europe:
However, it should be noticed that this statistical division was designed during the Cold War period. According to the UN Statistics Division, the assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations.
|Name of country, with flag||Population
|-/+ of Population||Percent change||Capital|
|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)|
|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) 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. 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. 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. 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.
The use of the term "Europe" has developed gradually throughout history. 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. 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.
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. The concept is one of the lasting legacies of the Carolingian Renaissance: "Europa" often figures in the letters of Charlemagne's cultural minister, Alcuin. This division—as much cultural as geographical—was used until the Late Middle Ages, when it was challenged by the Age of Discovery. 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.
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.
Sometimes, the word 'Europe' is used in a geopolitically limiting way 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. 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".
Clickable map of Europe, showing one of the most commonly used geographical boundaries (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. 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. Another theory suggests that it is actually based on a Semitic word such as the Akkadian erebu meaning "to go down, set" (cf. Occident), 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".
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.
Homo georgicus, which lived roughly 1.8 million years ago in Georgia, is the earliest hominid to have been discovered in Europe. Other hominid remains, dating back roughly 1 million years, have been discovered in Atapuerca, Spain. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Ancient Greece had a profound impact on Western civilisation. Western democratic and individualistic culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece. The Greeks invented the polis, or city-state, which played a fundamental role in their concept of identity. 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; and in science with Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes.
Another major influence on Europe came from the Roman Empire which left its mark on law, language, engineering, architecture, and government. During the pax romana, the Roman Empire expanded to encompass the entire Mediterranean Basin and much of Europe.
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. Christianity was eventually legitimised by Constantine I after three centuries of imperial persecution.
[[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. Renaissance thinkers such as Petrarch would later refer to this as the "Dark Ages". 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.
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. Eventually the Frankish tribes were united under Clovis I. 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.
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. Fatally weakened by the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantines fell in 1453 when they were conquered by the Ottoman Empire.
[[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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols. 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.
The Great Famine of 1315–1317 was the first crisis that would strike Europe in the late Middle Ages. The period between 1348 and 1420 witnessed the heaviest loss. The population of France was reduced by half. Medieval Britain was afflicted by 95 famines, and France suffered the effects of 75 or more in the same period. 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.
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. The plague is thought to have returned every generation with varying virulence and mortalities until the 18th century. During this period, more than 100 plague epidemics swept across Europe.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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. In the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia, France rose to predominance within Europe. The 17th century in southern and eastern Europe was a period of general decline. Eastern Europe experienced more than 150 famines in a 200-year period between 1501 to 1700.
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. Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, and soon after the Spanish and Portuguese began establishing colonial empires in the Americas. France, the Netherlands and England soon followed in building large colonial empires with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.
The Age of Enlightenment was a powerful intellectual movement during the 18th century promoting scientific and reason-based thoughts. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. In 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed; and 1871 saw the unifications of both Italy and Germany as nation-states from smaller principalities.
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. Reforms in social and economic spheres followed, including the first laws on child labour, the legalisation of trade unions, and the abolition of slavery. In Britain, the Public Health Act 1875 was passed, which significantly improved living conditions in many British cities. Europe’s population doubled during the 18th century, from roughly 100 million to almost 200 million, and doubled again during the 19th century. In the 19th century, 70 million people left Europe in migrations to various European colonies abroad and to the United States.
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. 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. Over 60 million European soldiers were mobilised from 1914–1918.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the ultimately unsuccessful Operation Barbarossa. 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.
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. More than 40 million people in Europe had lost their lives by the time World War II ended, including between 11 and 17 million people who perished during the Holocaust. The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties. By the end of World War II, Europe had more than 40 million refugees. Several post-war expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe displaced a total of about 20 million people.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
[[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.
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. The 1st century AD geographer Strabo, took the River Don "Tanais" to be the boundary to the Black Sea, as did early Judaic sources.
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.
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.
The climate is milder in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the globe due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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%).
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 spruce–pine–birch 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.
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.).
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.
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.
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. 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) 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, 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. 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. 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.
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). 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. According to some sources, this rate is higher among Muslims in Europe. The UN predicts the steady population decline of vast areas of Eastern Europe. The Russia's population is declining by at least 700,000 people each year. The country now has 13,000 uninhabited villages.
Europe is home to the highest number of migrants of all global regions at 70.6 million people, the IOM's report said. 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. The European Union plans to open the job centres for legal migrant workers from Africa. 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.
Emigration from Europe began with Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and French and English settlers in the 17th century. But numbers remained relatively small until waves of mass emigration in the 19th century, when millions of poor families left Europe.
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.
[[File:|thumb|right|250px|Council of Europe nations]]
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, 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|
|Andorra||468||68,403||146.2||Andorra la Vella|
|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|
|Template:Country data Iceland||103,000||307,261||2.7||Reykjavík|
|Template:Country data Kazakhstan j[›]||2,724,900||15,217,711||5.6||Astana|
|Republic of Macedonia||25,713||2,054,800||81.1||Skopje|
|San Marino||61||27,730||454.6||San Marino|
|Vatican City||0.44||900||2,045.5||Vatican City|
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|
|Template:Country data Åland (Finland)||1,552||26,008||16.8||Mariehamn|
|Faroe Islands (Denmark)||1,399||46,011||32.9||Tórshavn|
|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|| 1,804,838||220||Pristina|
|South Ossetia r[›]||3,900||70,000||18||Tskhinvali|
| File:Flag of Svalbard and Jan|
Mayen Islands (Norway)
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. 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. 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).
Capitalism has been dominant in the Western world since the end of feudalism. From Britain, it gradually spread throughout Europe. The Industrial Revolution started in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom in the late 18th century, 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.
[[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, and continued to suffer relative economic decline in the following decades. 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. 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. 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).
The states which retained a free-market system were given a large amount of aid by the United States under the Marshall Plan. 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.
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.
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.
|This article or section may be slanted towards recent events. Please try to keep recent events in historical perspective. (May 2010)|
The Eurozone entered its first official recession in the third quarter of 2008, official figures confirmed in January 2009. While beginning in the United States the late-2000s recession spread to Europe rapidly and has affected much of the region. The official unemployment rate in the 16 countries that use the euro rose to 9.5% in May 2009. Europe's young workers have been especially hard hit. In the first quarter of 2009, the unemployment rate in the EU27 for those aged 15–24 was 18.3%.
In early 2010 fears of a sovereign debt crisis developed concerning some countries in Europe, especially Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. As a result, measures were taken especially for Greece by the leading countries of the Eurozone.
[[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. 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.
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), 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.
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.
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.
^ 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
|“||These islands Pliny, as well as Strabo and Ptolemy, included in the African sea:||”|
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Europe  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.
|Britain and Ireland
|France and the Benelux
|Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus
|Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus
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:
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:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||BIH, .ba||BAM||n||n||CET||y||y|
|Czech Republic||CZ, .cz||CZK||2004||y||CET||n||y|
|Montenegro||MNE, .me (.yu)||EUR||n¹||n||CET||n||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|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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) . There are weekly services from Istanbul via Ankara to Tehran in Iran, and Damascus in Syria, as well as a sketchy service to Baghdad.
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, 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.
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.
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  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.
Then you are entitled to a compensation, which is:
The airline also have to cover the following expenses:
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.
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).
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.
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  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.
End of speed limit
Priority Street ends
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.
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.
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.
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 , 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  allows skiing well into the summer. Scotland is home of 5 ski resorts, Nevis Range  has the highest vertical drop at 1130 meters, while Glenshee  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  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 ) Zakopane (Poland, 30 km, 20 lifts ) and Jasna (Slovakia, 29 km, 24 lifts ) are the largest and most popular areas in the respective countries.
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 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.
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.
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!|
During the Cold War Western Europe was mainly a socio-political concept and meant the European countries of the First World. It was distinguished from Eastern Europe by differences of economics, politics, and religion rather than by clear geography.
Today, the term Western Europe has less to do with geography and more to do with economics. The concept is also commonly associated with liberal democracy, capitalism and also with the European Union. Most of the countries in the region share Western culture, and many have economic, and political ties with countries in North and South America and Oceania. In addition, Scandinavia (in Northern Europe) is commonly associated with social democracy and remains fairly neutral throughout international disputes.