Learn more about Western Europe
Western Europe is mainly a socio-political concept coined, forged and used during the Cold War. It largely means the European countries of the First World. It was, and still is to a lesser extent, distinguished from Eastern Europe by differences of economics, politics, and religion rather than by clear geography. These boundaries are subject to considerable overlap and – most importantly – historical fluctuation, which makes an easy understanding somewhat difficult.
Today, the term Western Europe has less to do with geography and more to do with economics. The concept is also commonly associated, but not clearly delimited, 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.
Alternatively, Western Europe is also a geographic subregion of Europe that is far more restrictive than traditional political reckonings; as defined by the United Nations (the sub-regions according to the UN), it comprises the following nine countries:
 Europe before the Cold War
The Triple Entente, also known as the Allied Powers (the British Empire, France, joined later by the USA, while the Russian Empire retreated from it in 1918), defeated the Central Powers (led by Germany, Austria and the Ottoman Empire). The three leading members of the central powers also lost their monarchic dynasties, which were forced to abdicate and sent into exile. The political systems of these countries were transformed into republics and they were forced to accept the Treaty of Versailles. The Russian Empire (now become the USSR) made a separate peace with the Central Powers through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
The treaty of Versailles imposed responsibility for the conflict onto the losing side, which entailed the loss of territories and the payments of huge reparations. This led to outrage among many people and undermined the acceptance of the new post-war regimes. The widespread dissatisfaction was used by Adolf Hitler in his climb to power. For example, in many of his speeches he denounced the Diktat von Versailles - "the dictate of Versailles". This was one of the major factors leading to World War II.
 The Cold War divides Europe into the Eastern/Western blocs
During the final stages of WWII the future of the whole of Europe had been decided between the Allies in the Yalta Conference, between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, the President of the USA Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Premier of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin. Post-war Europe would be divided into two major spheres: the western bloc mainly influenced by the USA, and the eastern/communist bloc dominated by the Soviet Union. With the onset of the Cold War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, a name popularized by a speech of Winston Churchill. Some countries were officially politically neutral, but they were classified according to the nature of their political and economical systems.
 Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe was basically composed of all the countries occupied by Soviet armies in the wake of liberation from German occupation or Fascist regimes. These were joined by the German Democratic Republic (informally known as East Germany) formed by the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. By order of Stalin, all these countries were formed into Communist regimes. Although they were officially independent from the Soviet Union, the practical extent of this independence was quite limited. Yugoslavia and Albania, communist countries which were fiercely independent with regard to the Soviet Union also belonged to the eastern/communist bloc.
- Most of these countries were members of the military Warsaw pact and its economical twin COMECON. First and foremost was the Soviet Union (which at that time included Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine, etc). Other countries dominated by the Soviet Union were the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.
- The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (formed after WWII and before its dismemberment in 1992) was not part of the Warsaw Pact. Despite being a communist regime, it was demonstratively independent from the Soviet Union. However, it was regarded part of the eastern/communist bloc.
- Albania was fiercely independent towards the Soviet Union and preferred to ally itself with China. Despite this, it had a communist regime and thus was considered part of the eastern/communist bloc.
 Western Europe
Western Europe was basically composed by all the countries liberated by the Western Allies (USA, Canada, UK, France, etc) from German occupation, the European western allies themselves, plus Italy (a former Axis Power who had surrendered and been occupied by the Western Allies) and the Federal Republic of Germany (informally known as West Germany) formed by the three occupation zones of Germany (of the USA, UK, and France).
Almost all the countries of Western Europe received economical assistance from the United States through the Marshall Plan.
In more detail:
- United Kingdom and France, victors of World War II.
- The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg countries who had been occupied by Nazi Germany and subsequently liberated by the Western allies.
- The Federal Republic of Germany, which had been formed by the three occupation zones of Germany belonging to the Western Allies (USA, UK and France).
- Italy, a former Axis Power who had surrendered and been occupied by the Western Allies.
- Ireland gained its independence in the 1920s from the United Kingdom. It stayed neutral during World War II and was never invaded. It never joined NATO but it joined the European Union in 1973. It is regarded as part of Western Europe.
- Countries who were under the rules of dictators, Portugal, Spain, and Greece became parliamentarian democracies in the mid-1970s. The first two are situated in the geographic south-west of Europe, while the last one is located in the south-east of it. All of them joined NATO and also the European Union.
- The Nordic countries were a strange case. Denmark and Norway had been conquered by Nazi Germany. Sweden had been neutral, and while Finland had been an ally of the Axis Powers against the Soviet Union, it had been defeated but not conquered and occupied. The peace treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union stipulated that Finland would surrender some of its territory, that it would not join NATO and that Finland would have friendly relations with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, all these Nordic countries usually are considered part of Western Europe.
- Austria and Switzerland are also a case apart. Austria had been incorporated into Nazi Germany through the Anschluss before the war, while Switzerland had always remained neutral. After the WWII both of them remained neutral, in the case of Austria through the Austrian State Treaty. Austria later joined the European Union but not NATO. Switzerland declined membership of NATO and the European Union and joined EFTA instead. Nevertheless both of these countries are considered part of Western Europe.
- The island-states of Iceland, Malta and Cyprus are generally considered part of Western Europe, but most of the time they are simply ignored.
- The European microstates of Vatican City, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra and Liechtenstein are considered part of Western Europe but they too are mainly overlooked. Many of these states have special agreements and treaties with the European Union.
- The legal status of many of the Overseas territories in Europe (Gibraltar, Channel Islands, Faroe Islands etc) are peculiar and vary from case to case. Despite all that, they are also part of Western Europe.
- Turkey, as a member of NATO was accepted as belonging to the Western bloc. Nevertheless it never became a part of the European Union. Turkey is typically considered to be a transcontinental nation in Southeastern Europe and Western Asia.
 Recent political developments and modern Western Europe
The world changed dramatically with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. The Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the Democratic Republic of Germany, leading to the German reunification. The eastern european countries dissolved Comecon and the Warsaw Pact. Others regained their independence from the Soviet Union: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, etc. Many of them joined NATO and some were admitted as members of the European Union.
The term Central Europe has started to reappear. For example, Germany is now reunited and thus calling it either western or eastern european would be technically inaccurate.
Although the term Western Europe was largely a construct of the Cold War, it remains much used 15 years after its end. The term is commonly used in the media and in everyday use both in "western" and other regions of Europe. Some reasons for the continued use of the term include economic differences with the former Eastern Bloc countries, cultural differences (e.g. the consequences of all the european colonial "powers" apart from Russia being from western europe), and sometimes a resulting feeling of superiority among the inhabitants of "western europe".
It is generally understood that the term Old Europe coined by Donald Rumsfeld really means Old Western Europe. He clearly meant the eastern European countries by the term: New Europe. If the UK should also be included in Old Europe is debatable.
The east/west division still exists, even if in a different guise, and by far not as prevalent as during the Cold War.
A current understanding of Western Europe includes the following countries:
- the United Kingdom
- the Republic of Ireland
- the Benelux countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands
- France and Monaco
- Malta 
- the Italian peninsula: Italy, San Marino, and Vatican City
- the Iberian peninsula: Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory)
- the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and possibly Iceland
 See also
- The Making of Europe, ISBN 0-14-015409-4, by Robert Bartlett
- Crescent and Cross, ISBN 1-84212-753-5, by Hugh Bicheno
- The Normans, ISBN 0-7524-2881-0, by Trevor Rowley
- 1066 The Year of the Three Battles, ISBN 0-7126-6672-9, by Frank McLynn
 External links
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