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

Western Europe, or West Europe, is the region comprising the western part of Europe. Below, some different geographic, geopolitical and cultural definitions of the term are outlined.

For centuries, Western Europe was defined as the countries with dominant Catholic and Protestant churches, while Eastern Europe was dominated by the Eastern Orthodox Church. A more contemporary definition subdivides Western Europe into several other regions like Central Europe or Northern Europe.

Western Europe's significant historical events include the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the Protestant Reformation as well as the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, the two World Wars and the Cold War.


Historical divisionsEdit

Classical antiquity and medieval originsEdit

The Great Schism in Christianity, the predominant religion in Western Europe at the time.

Prior to the Roman conquest, a large part of Western Europe had adopted the newly developed La Tène culture. As the Roman domain expanded, a cultural and linguistic division appeared between the mainly Greek-speaking eastern provinces, which had formed the highly urbanized Hellenistic civilization, and the western territories, which in contrast largely adopted the Latin language. This cultural and linguistic division was eventually reinforced by the later political east-west division of the Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire controlled the two divergent regions between the 3rd and the 5th century.

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

After the conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Carolingian Empire), the division between Roman Catholic and Protestant became more important in Europe than that with Eastern Orthodoxy.

In East Asia, Western Europe was historically known as taixi in China and taisei in Japan, which literally translates as the "Far West". The term Far West became synonymous with Western Europe in China during the Ming dynasty. The Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci was one of the first writers in China to use the Far West as an Asian counterpart to the European concept of the Far East. In his writings, Ricci referred to himself as "Matteo of the Far West".[1] The term was still in use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054

The East–West Schism, which began in the 11th century and lasts until this very day, divided Christianity in Europe, and consequently the world, into Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity.

With certain simplifications, Western Europe is thus Catholic or Protestant and uses the Latin alphabet. Eastern Europe is Orthodox and uses the Cyrillic script.

Western Europe according to this definition is formed by countries with dominant Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, including countries which are considered part of Central Europe now:

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

Eastern Europe is formed by countries with dominant Eastern Orthodox churches, like Greece,Belarus, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Russia, Ukraine for instance.

The schism is the break of communion and theology between what are now the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic from 11th century, as well as from the 16th century also Protestant) churches.

This division dominated Europe for centuries, in opposition to the rather short lived Cold War division of 4 decades.

Since the Great Schism of 1054, Europe has been divided between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in the West, and the Eastern Orthodox Christian (many times incorrectly labeled "Greek Orthodox") churches in the east. Due to this religious cleavage, Eastern Orthodox countries are often associated with Eastern Europe. A cleavage of this sort is, however, often problematic; for example, Greece is overwhelmingly Orthodox, but is very rarely included in "Eastern Europe", for a variety of reasons.[5]

Cold WarEdit

Political situation in Europe during the Cold War

During the four decades of the Cold War, the definition of East and West was rather simplified by the existence of the Eastern Bloc. Historians and social scientists generally view the Cold War definition of Western and Eastern Europe as outdated or relegating.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

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

Post-war Europe would be divided into two major spheres: the Western Bloc, influenced by the United States, and the Eastern Bloc, influenced by the Soviet Union. With the onset of the Cold War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. This term had been used during World War II by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and later Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk in the last days of the war; however, its use was hugely popularised by Winston Churchill, who used it in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address on 5 March 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri:

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

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

Former Western European Union - its members and associates

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

Western European UnionEdit

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

Modern divisionsEdit

CIA definitionsEdit

Regions of Europe based on CIA world factbook. Western Europe in light blue; Southwestern Europe in red

The CIA divides Western Europe into two smaller subregions.
The Western Europe group consists of eight countries:

The Southwestern group consists of three countries:

Western European and Others GroupEdit

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

European UnionEdit

European Union countries

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe.[14][15]


The Western and Northern European countries of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are members of EFTA, though cooperating to varying degree with the European Union.

Intermediate RegionEdit

Geopolitical boundary of Western culture according to historian Dimitri Kitsikis

The Intermediate Region is an established geopolitical model set forth in the 1970s by the Greek historian Dimitri Kitsikis. Under this model, the lands between the Adriatic Sea and the Indus River form the Intermediate Region, and are considered a bridge between Western and Eastern civilisations.

Other groupings and organisationsEdit

Other groupings and organisations covering the western part of Europe include:


Population of various countries that are commonly referred to as "Western Europe".[18]

Country Population
(2011 est.)
(2000 est.)
-/+ of
Capital Population
(per km²)
  Andorra 82,326 65,399 16,927 25.88% Andorra La Vella 176
  Austria 8,414,638 8,002,186 412,452 4.90% Vienna 101
  Belgium 11,007,020 10,296,350 710,670 6.45% Brussels 366
  Denmark 5,564,219 5,330,020 234,019 4.20% Copenhagen 130
  Finland 5,388,417 5,167,486 220,931 4.10% Helsinki 17.9
  France 65,821,885 60,537,977 5,283,908 8.02% Paris 118
  Germany 81,799,600 82,163,475 -363,875 -0.44% Berlin 226
  Greece 10,950,000 10,918,000 32,000 0.003% Athens 85.3
  Iceland 318,452 279,049 39,403 12.37% Reykjavík 3.20
  Ireland 4,581,269 3,777,763 803,506 17.53% Dublin 65
  Italy 60,681,514 56,923,524 3,757,990 6.19% Rome 199
  Luxembourg 511,840 433,600 78,240 15.28% Luxembourg 208
  Malta 381,363 416,268 34,905 9.15% Valletta 1317
  Netherlands 16,699,600 15,863,950 835,650 5.00% Amsterdam 498
  Norway 4,989,300 4,478,497 510,803 10.23% Oslo 15.6
  Portugal 10,647,763 10,195,014 452,749 4.25% Lisbon 115
  Spain 46,030,111 40,049,708 5,980,401 13.00% Madrid 93
  Sweden 9,415,570 8,861,426 554,144 5.88% Stockholm 23.5
   Switzerland 7,866,500 7,162,444 704,056 8.95% Bern 196
  United Kingdom 62,262,000 58,785,246 3,476,754 5.91% London 255


The climate of Western Europe varies from subtropical and desertic in the southern coast of Spain to polar[verification needed] in the Pyrenees. The Mediterranean climate of the south is dry and warm. The western and northwestern parts have a mild, generally humid climate, influenced by the North Atlantic Current.


Western European languages mostly fall within two Indo-European language groups: the Romance languages, derived from the Latin of the Roman Empire; and the Germanic languages, whose ancestor language came from southern Scandinavia.[19] Romance languages are spoken primarily in south-western Europe as well as in Central Europe. Germanic languages are spoken in Northern Europe, the British Isles and some parts of Central Europe.[19]

Several other smaller languages outside the two main groups exist in Western Europe. Other Indo-European languages include the Celtic group (that is, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton[19]). In addition, a distinct group of Uralic languages (Finnish and Hungarian) is spoken mainly in Finland, and Hungary. Maltese is the only Semitic language that is official within Western Europe, while Basque is the only Western European language isolate.

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

The following is a table displaying the number of speakers of the languages in Western Europe spoken by more than 5 million people:

Language Speakers[a] Largest countries where spoken[b] Largest regions where spoken[c]
Catalan 9,200,000 [20]   Andorra,   Spain   Catalonia,   Valencian Community
Danish 5,522,490 [21]   Denmark   Faroe Islands
Dutch 21,944,690[22]   Belgium,   Netherlands
English 59,800,000 [23]   Ireland,   United Kingdom (including   Isle of Man,   Jersey,   Guernsey and   Gibraltar)
Finnish 5,392,180 [24]   Finland
French 65,700,000 [25]   Belgium,   France,   Luxembourg,   Monaco,    Switzerland   Jersey,   Valle d'Aosta[26]
German 95,000,000   Austria,   Belgium,   Germany,   Liechtenstein,   Luxembourg,    Switzerland   South Tyrol[27]
Greek 13,432,490 [28]   Cyprus,   Greece   Southern Albania
Italian 59,400,000 [29]   Italy,   Monaco,   San Marino,    Switzerland,    Vatican City   Corsica,   Istria County,   Malta,   Slovene Istria
Portuguese 10,000,000 [30]   Portugal
Spanish 45,000,000+ [31]   Andorra,   Spain
Swedish 9,197,090 [32]   Finland (including   Åland),   Sweden


Western Europe is one of the richest regions of the world. Germany has the highest GDP in Europe and the largest financial surplus of any country, Luxembourg has the highest GDP per capita, and France has the highest Net National Wealth of any European state.

Liechtenstein has the highest average wage of any state in Europe, Switzerland ranks highest in Europe on the Social Progress Index.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Both native and second language speakers residing in Europe only.
  2. ^ Country is defined as being one of the 193 members of the United Nations. 'Recognised minority language' status is not included.
  3. ^ Region is defined as being a subordinate constituent of a country, where a legitimate political entity has granted the language official status in that region.


  1. ^ Ricci, Matteo (1610) [2009]. On Friendship: One Hundred Maxims for a Chinese Prince. Translated by Timothy Billings. Columbia University Press. pp. 19, 71, 87. ISBN 978-0231149242. 
  2. ^ "Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land". Archived from the original on 10 June 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "". Archived from the original on February 13, 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Dragan Brujić (2005). "Vodič kroz svet Vizantije (Guide to the Byzantine World)". Beograd. p. 51. [dead link]
  5. ^ Peter John, Local Governance in Western Europe, University of Manchester, 2001, ISBN 9780761956372
  6. ^ "The geopolitical conditions (...) are now a thing of the past, and some specialists today think that Eastern Europe has outlived its usefulness as a phrase.""Regions, Regionalism, Eastern Europe by Steven Cassedy". New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Charles Scribner's Sons. 2005. Retrieved 2010-01-31 
  7. ^ "The Economist: Eastern Europe a bogus term - South Eastern Europe - The Sofia Echo". 
  8. ^ "One very common, but now outdated, definition of Eastern Europe was the Soviet-dominated communist countries of Europe."
  9. ^ "Too much writing on the region has – consciously or unconsciously – clung to an outdated image of 'Eastern Europe', desperately trying to patch together political and social developments from Budapest to Bukhara or Tallinn to Tashkent without acknowledging that this Cold War frame of reference is coming apart at the seams. Central Europe Review: Re-Viewing Central Europe By Sean Hanley, Kazi Stastna and Andrew Stroehlein, 1999
  10. ^ Berglund, Sten; Ekman, Joakim; Aarebrot, Frank H. (2004). The handbook of political change in Eastern Europe. Edward Elgar Publishing [via Google Books]. p. 2. ISBN 9781781954324. Retrieved 2011-10-05. The term 'Eastern Europe' is ambiguous and in many ways outdated. 
  11. ^ [1] Archived April 3, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 2015-03-04.
  12. ^ "United Nations Statistics Division- Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49)". 
  13. ^ Population Division, DESA, United Nations: World Population Ageing 1950-2050
  14. ^ "Basic information on the European Union". European Union. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  15. ^ "European". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 5 b. spec. Designating a developing series of economic and political unions between certain countries of Europe from 1952 onwards, as European Economic Community, European Community, European Union 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "European Y-DNA haplogroups frequencies by country". Eupedia. 
  18. ^ "EUROPE, GEOGRAPHICAL AND POLITICAL – National Geographic Style Manual". 1 November 1993. Retrieved 19 July 2012. 
  19. ^ a b c "Europe". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2008. 
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ Danish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  22. ^ Dutch at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  23. ^ English at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  24. ^ Finnish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  25. ^ French at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  26. ^ Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Article 38, Title VI. Region Vallée d'Aoste. Archived from the original on 4 November 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Greek at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  29. ^ Italian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  30. ^ Portuguese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  31. ^ Spanish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  32. ^ Swedish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)


External linksEdit