Classical antiquity and medieval origins
Prior to the Roman conquest, a large part of Western Europe had adopted the fairly newly developed La Tène culture. 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 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 division between these two was enhanced during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by a number of events. The Western Roman Empire collapsed starting the Early Middle Ages. By contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire, mostly known as the Greek or Byzantine Empire, managed to survive and even to thrive for another 1000 years. The rise of the Frankish Empire in the west, and in particular the Great Schism that formally divided Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, enhanced the cultural and religious distinctiveness between Eastern and Western Europe.
The conquest of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, and the gradual fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire (which had replaced the Frankish Empire) led to a change of the importance of Roman Catholic/Protestant vs. Eastern Orthodox concept in Europe.
Western Europe's significant historical events include the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, 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.
In East Asia, Western Europe was historically known as taixi in China and taisei in Japan, which literally translates as the "Far West" in English. The term Far West became synonymous with Western Europe in China during the Ming dynasty. The Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci was one of 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." The term was still in use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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 West, influenced by the United States, and the Eastern Bloc, influenced by the Soviet Union. With the onset of the Cold War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain.
This term had been used during World War II by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and later Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk in the last days of the war; however, its use was hugely popularised by Winston Churchill, who used it in his famous "Sinews of Peace" address 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.
The world changed dramatically with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the German Democratic Republic, in 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.
Although the term Western Europe was more prominent during the Cold War, it remains much in use. The term commonly appears in the media and in everyday use, in "western" and other regions of Europe.
Western European Union
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, 6 associate member countries, 5 observer countries and 7 associate partner countries.
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.
United Nations Statistics Division geoscheme
The United Nations Statistics Division geoscheme is a scheme devised by the United Nations Statistics Division based on the M49 coding classification, which assigns countries to regions and subregions for statistical convenience. These do not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations. The geoscheme for Europe is divided into 4 groups: Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, Southern Europe and Western Europe. The Western Europe group consists of 9 countries:
However, this geoscheme is not necessarily used in other agencies of the UN, including UNHCR
Western European and Others Group
The Western European and Others Group is one of several unofficial Regional Groups in the United Nations that act as voting blocs and negotiation forums. Regional voting blocs were formed in 1961 to encourage voting to various UN bodies from different regional groups.
The CIA divides Europe into two smaller subregions:
Other groupings and organisations
Other groupings and organisations covering the western part of Europe include:
R1b is the most common haplogroup amid Western Europeans.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
IMF developed economies
European Space Agency
Population of various countries that are commonly referred to as "Western Europe".
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