As a geographic land mass, the Earth's continent called Europe consists of all the land north of the Mediterranean Sea and, approximately, west of the Ural mountains of Russia. More detail is in the Geography section of this article.
Politically, Europe is divided into more than four dozen countries of varying sizes and prosperity. Nearly all European countries are linked to the others by a treaty or other form of agreement. 27 European countries are currently members of the European Union, which is an association of sovereign states that controls defined aspects of their political, social and economic policies. Seventeen of its members are also members of the eurozone, thus adopting the euro as their common currency, the delegation of monetary policy to a European Central Bank and the acceptance of agreed limits on the conduct of their fiscal policies. Most European countries have some form of representative government and are committed to the preservation of a common code of human rights.
For a table of facts and statistics about European countries, see the countries section of the Addendum tab for this article.
Throughout Europe, there is an extensive history of wars (and other events of far-reaching importance). For a chronological list of key events in the history of Europe, please see the Timelines tab of this article.
The historical background to present-day Europe
- (describing those developments most relevant to the present configuration of Europe)
The political structure of modern Europe is the product of a distinctive European heritage and of two sequences of political change. Its political heritage includes the concept of democracy from Ancient Greece, the tradition of the rule of law from Ancient Rome and the idea of human rights from the philosophers of The Enlightenment.
The first sequence of political change started in the 17th century with the formalisation of the concept of the sovereign state in the Treaty of Westphalia, followed by three centuries of national evolution, including the redrawing of frontiers by the peace settlements that followed the Napoleonic wars and World Wars I and II.
The second sequence of events was a succession of agreements in the development of the current "union of nation states", during which a complex system of intergovernmental linkages was forged, including, most recently, those of the European Union. The bringing together of the countries of Europe was limited for some fifty years after the second world war by the ideological "Iron Curtain" that divided the market economies and political democracies of the west from the centrally-controlled economies and totalitarian states of eastern Europe. Many of the Newly Independent States that emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia have since been brought into membership of the European Union.
Classical influences from ancient Greek, Roman and other sources similar to those of its political heritage shaped the social and cultural characteristics of the countries of Europe. In addition, the adoption of Christianity distinguished Europe in popular thinking from the adjacent continents of Asia and Africa. The freedom of thought arising from the Enlightenment made possible advances of science and technology and the industrial revolution, and gave the countries of Europe a marked material advantage over the rest of the world.
Europe is a part of the larger landmass known as Eurasia. It is the sixth largest continent in area, covering approximately 10,000,000 square kilometers (3,900,000 square miles), and the third largest in population, with over 720,000,000 inhabitants.
Its eastern boundary with Asia is sometimes considered to be defined by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caucasus Mountains and Turkey's eastern frontier with the former states of the Soviet Union. (The part of Russia that lies west of the Urals is included under that definition because of its historic cultural, political and social affinities with European countries and peoples, and despite the fact that Russia as a country is otherwise considered to be part of the continent of Asia.) In an alternative perspective its eastern boundary is also defined by the Turkish Straits (Bosporus, Sea of Marmara and Dardanelles) and by the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, locating a small part of Turkey in Europe (i.e. Eastern Thrace) and its largest part in Asia (i.e. Anatolia or Asia Minor). The western boundary of Europe is formed by the Atlantic coast, but the British Isles and Iceland, are also included. The Scandinavian countries (including Finland) form its northern boundary and it is bounded on the south by the coast of North Africa.
In practice the borders of Europe are often drawn with greater regard to political, economic, and other cultural considerations. This has led to several different 'Europes' that differ in size, including or excluding countries according to the definition of 'Europe' used. The idea of a European 'continent' is not universally held. Some non-European geographical texts refer to a Eurasian Continent, or to a European 'sub-continent', given that 'Europe' is not surrounded by sea and is, in any case, much more a cultural than a geographically definable area. In the past concepts such as 'Christendom' were deemed more important.
So, the following territories are often regarded as being at the edges of Europe:
- Turkey is in Europe (Eastern Thrace) and in Asia (Anatolia or Asia Minor).
- The island of Cyprus may be considered European or Asiatic.
- The Caucasus region, including Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, may be considered European or Asiatic.
- Russia belongs to Europe (Russian historical heartland) and to Asia (Siberia, east of the Ural mountains).
- Kazakhstan is usually viewed as an Asiatic country, but its far western region, located west of Ural River, is sometimes included in Europe.
- The island of Malta may be considered European or African.
- Some remote islands are barely considered European, such as the Azores (in the Atlantic Ocean, belonging to Portugal) and Svalbard (in the Arctic Ocean, belonging to Norway).
- Also, a few states whose roots are European still possess overseas territories outside Europe: Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. Some such territories are represented in the national legislatures, some are governed by the same laws, and some are included in the European Union (see map).
States and Regions
See the relevant columns of the states of Europe table on the Addendum subpage.
European intellectuals introduced the concepts of nations and the sovereign state in the wake of the Treaty of Westphalia. Nationalism has been both a boon and a burden for European nations. Present-day Europe is made up of 51 sovereign states (including 9 that may be considered to be on the edge of Europe) that differ widely in area (column 4 ), population (column 5 ), and output per head (column 10); and of which 47 are members of the Council of Europe (column 8), 27 are members of the European Union (column 6), 17 are members of the eurozone (column 7), and 26 are members of NATO (column 9).
The use of the terms "Western Europe" and "Eastern Europe" in the following paragraphs follows the conventional usage based upon the political divisions that emerged immediately after World War II - a categorisation that in several instances is at odds with their geographical positions. An earlier term, "Middle Europe" (mitteleuropa) has largely passed out of active usage except among historians.
Western Europe is assumed to include: the British Isles (United Kingdom, Ireland); the central western mainland (France, Monaco) and the "Benelux" countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and Germany; the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra); the Italian peninsula (Italy, San Marino, Vatican City); the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark); the Alpine Countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovenia), and the Mediterranean countries of Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Turkey.
Eastern Europe is assumed to include Albania, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav countries (Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia}; the other Balkans countries of Bulgaria and Romania: the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania); the Central European "Visegrad Group" (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary); and the former members of the Soviet Union, the "Newly Independent States (NIS)" (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and the Ukraine) and Russia.
Europe lies within the Northern Temperate climate zone, and much of it benefits from the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Its climate is conventionally subdivided further into four broadly-defined zones. The climate of north-west Europe is characterised by mild winters, cool summers and rain throughout the year. The Mediterranean climate zone has mild winters and hot summers with rain occurring mainly in spring and autumn. The central zone typically has cold winters and warm summers with rain mainly in the summer, and the eastern Europe zone is similarly characterised, but with very cold winters. . Climate maps are available which provide weather statistics for individual countries 
Europe has long been characterized by large cultural differences combined with certain central aspects of similarity. Language, ethnicity, religion, philosophy and politics have been at the center of both many of the differences and similarities. In recent years, cultural cooperation across Europe has been a highly important development.
- See the languages of Europe on the Addendum subpage - a tabular summary of the main characteristics of each of Europe's languages.
Europe has at least as many languages as countries. Numerous languages are spoken primarily only in a single country while a considerable number of previously spoken languages are now extinct. There are also notable efforts in the present to revive a number of European languages including Gaelic in Ireland, Manx and Cornish and others.
The vast majority of them belong to the extended family of the Indo-European languages. They are conventionally categorised into the three main groups of Romance, Slavic, and Germanic, and into various smaller groups and sub-groups (Celtic, Baltic, Greek, Albanian, Armenian and Indo-Iranian). The Latin-based Romance languages are spoken principally in the southern half of Europe (chiefly in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Romania); the Slavic languages are widely spoken in Eastern and Central Europe (from Russia to Poland and to the Balkans), and the Germanic languages are spoken in Northern and Central Europe (from Austria to Britain and Scandinavia).
Outside Indo-European, other important language families are found in Europe such as Altaic (chiefly in Turkey), Uralic (chiefly in Finland and Hungary), Kartvelian (chiefly in Georgia), North Caucasian, Basque and Afro-Asiatic (in Malta).
In the context of such great linguistic diversity, Latin, French, German and, most recently, English and Russian, have all taken turns as lingua franca, or universal language of Europe at different times. Currently, a sizable proportion of Europeans are multi-lingual.
The ambiguous term “ethnicity” may be processed according to a cultural or to a physical point of view. There is no consistent correlation between ethnic groups (defined with cultural criteria) and physical types.
According to cultural criteria, there are many ethnic groups which sometimes match with the languages of Europe. Some ethnic groups represent the dominant cultures of the states. Nondominant groups form ethnic minorities with various statuses, ranging from a broad autonomy, especially in the states of Spain, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Russia, to a total lack of recognition and even some forms of cultural intolerance, in France, Turkey, Greece and Slovakia. Almost all European states have rooted, autochthonous, ethnic minorities (the only exceptions may be Iceland, Ireland, Estonia, Lithuania and tiny states such as Luxembourg, Malta, Andorra or Liechtenstein).
According to physical criteria, the vast majority of Europeans fit in the subjective category of “white people” (also called “Caucasians”), with a lot of internal variations, gradations and exceptions, which can be explained by a complex succession of migrations and genetic intermingling since Prehistory. All regions of Europe, without any exception, are characterised by a strong mixing between various types of “white people”, even if some of these types are more frequent in some parts of the continent. A Caucasian, “Mediterranean type” tends to be prominent in Southern Europe (typically: dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin) whereas a Caucasian, “Nordic type” is more often seen in some parts of Northern Europe (typically: blonde hair, blue or green eyes, pale skin). Within some peripheral European populations, located at the edge of Asia, a “Mongoloid” type (typically: slanted eyes, dark hair) may be prominent, especially in Kalmykia, Kazakhstan and in some ethnic minorities near the Ural Mountains. A Caucasian type with light Mongoloid admixtures may be found in some countries such as Lapland, Finland, Russia, Hungary or Turkey. Following the modern migrations of the 20th and the 21st centuries, some Europeans belong to physical types originating from various parts of the World (Black Africa, Northern Africa, Far East, Near East, Indian subcontinent, Antilles, etc.).
Religious observance in Europe is dominated by the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Christianity being the majority religion in its northern countries and Islam in Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, North Cyprus, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Roman Catholicism is the principal religion of most of the countries of Western, Central, and Southern Europe, the major exceptions being the predominantly Protestant countries of Germany and the United Kingdom. Protestantism also predominates in the Scandinavian Countries of Northern Europe, and the mostly Christian countries of Eastern Europe are generally either Catholic or Orthodox. The Kalmyk Autonomous Republic in Russia is traditionally Buddhist.
During the second half of the 20th century, there was renewed acceptance of the values traditionally ascribed to western culture - founded on a view of authority as the product of public choice: not its determinant. By the early 21st century, those values were firmly entrenched in the constitution of the European Union, and had the support of the majority of its citizens (asked what values the European Parliament should defend, 62 per cent of the respondents to an opinion poll gave first priority to human rights.
As of the end of 2022, the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index categorises Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia as "authoritarian", and lists five countries as "hybrid" regimes (Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine) - compared with which the other listed countries are "democracies". All of the listed countries of Western Europe, except Turkey, are awarded democratic index scores greater than 7 out of 10, whereas all of the listed Eastern European countries, except the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Baltic States, get scores below that level, and Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia get scores below 4.
The European Union offers neighbouring countries privileged relations with it in return for progress toward the establishment of democracy and human rights. Relations with the NIS (former Soviet Union) countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, are the subject of their "Eastern Partnership Programme". The European Commission monitors political conditions in those countries in collaboration with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation
The main party groups of members of European Parliament are:
- the European People’s Party - European Democrats (EPP-ED) Group - the members from the Christian Democrat, conservative, mainstream centre and centre-right national parties;
- the Party of European Socialists (PES) Group - the members from the social democratic and labour parties; and,
- the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group - the members from liberal, democratic and reform parties.
As early as 1954, the Council of Europe decided to assume responsibility for "the management of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue", and its steering committee has since been active in assisting in the implementation of cultural policies and developing European standards, principles and good practices. In 1992 the Treaty of Maastricht introduced the concept of European citizenship for members of the European Union, and there have since been attempts to combine it with the concept of "cultural citizenship". The management of the European Union is believed to be actively promoting the idea of a "European cultural identity", which would imply a mutual obligation to accept the free exercise of the differing practices and beliefs of the cultures of all of its citizens. However, there is widespread popular resistance to the idea among those who prefer to associate citizenship with ethnic identity, and those who believe that immigrants and ethnic minorities in their countries should be expected to adopt the cultural practices of the indigenous majority.
Treaties and agreements
The Brussels Treaty
The Treaty of Economic, Social and Cultural Collaboration and Collective Self-Defence, was signed in 1948 by Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom was amended by the Paris Agreements signed on 23 October 1954. The signatories undertook:
- to fortify and preserve the principles of democracy, personal freedom and political liberty, their constitutional traditions and the rule of law; to co-ordinate their efforts to create a firm basis for European economic recovery; to afford assistance to each other in maintaining international peace and security and in resisting any policy of aggression; and, to take such steps as may be held to be necessary in the event of a renewal by Germany of a policy of aggression.
The modified treaty established the Western European Union and provided for its functions to be replaced by those of European Union's Foreign and Security Policy after June 2011.
The Treaties of the European Union
The Treaty of Lisbon is the most recent of a succession of treaties beginning with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and including the creation of the European Union by the Maastricht Treaty.
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms came into force in 1953. It is an undertaking by its signatories to secure the following rights and freedoms to everyone within their jurisdiction:-
- right to life, prohibition of torture, prohibition of slavery and forced labour, right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, no punishment without law, right to respect for private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, right to marry, right to an effective remedy, and the prohibition of discrimination.
- and to abide by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and take all necessary measures to comply with them.
The Schengen Agreement
The territories of the signatory countries of the Schengen Agreement make up the Schengen Area within which frontiers can be crossed without the need for passports or other formalities. Apart from the removal of frontier checks, the agreement provides for common rules applying to people crossing the external borders of the area, enhanced police and judicial cooperation and access to a shared database of wanted or undesirable people and stolen objects.
The countries of the Schengen area are denoted S in column 6 of the states of Europe table
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe covers virtually the entire European continent, with its 47 member countries (including all the countries of Europe except Belarus, the Vatican City, Kazakhstan, and Kosovo). It seeks to develop common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other agreement concerned with the protection of individuals. Following the signing in 1954 of the European Cultural Convention,  it formed a Steering Committee for Culture  which was instructed to focus on "cultural polices, and good governance in culture, the management of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue". The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe  is made up of delegates from the parliaments of member states. It meets four times a year to discuss topical issues and ask member governments to take initiatives and report back. The governments of member countries are obliged to respond.
The European Council
The European Council was created in 1974 as an informal forum for discussions between Heads of State (or of Government). It rapidly developed into the body which fixed goals for the European Union and set the course for achieving them. It acquired a formal status in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which defined its function as providing the impetus and general political guidelines for the Union's development. It now holds regular meetings at six-monthly intervals.
The Council of the European Union
The Council of the Europe Union  (also known as the "Council of Ministers") is the main decision-making body of the European Union. The Council enacts legislative proposals initiated by the European Commission, after modifying them if necessary. It also co-ordinates economic policies, implements foreign and security policy, concludes international agreements, coordinates crime prevention, and adopts the Union's budget. On all but certain "sensitive" issues it has joint authority on equal terms with the Parliament. Its legislative proceedings are then open to the public.
The European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly. The Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. They are binding on the countries concerned and have led governments to alter their legislation and administrative practice in a wide range of areas.
Organisation for Security and Cooperation
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe  comprises 56 states including the United States and Canada, as well as Council of Europe and some NIS countries outside Europe. It was founded by the United Nations in 1975 as the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Its functions include preventive diplomacy, conflict prevention and crisis management, and post-conflict reconstruction. It has acquired a rôle in attempts to resolve conflicts with the Russian Federation. It has missions in Kosovo, Georgia and Afgnanistan. Its first summit for 11 years was held in Astana on 2 December 2010. It has recently helped Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, and its staff has been expelled from Belarus.
The European Union is a group of 27 countries (column 6 of the states of Europe table) that share a common political ideology. It is governed jointly by Ministers of member countries' governments and a directly-elected Parliament. It is an association of sovereign states, but its constitution provides for the central control of defined aspects of political, social and economic policy. 16 of its members have joined in an economic and monetary union known as the eurozone, membership of which involves the adoption of the euro as their common currency, the delegation of monetary policy to a European Central Bank, and the acceptance of agreed limits on the conduct of fiscal policy. The future of the eurozone is under review.
The European Parliament
The 736 members of the European Parliament are elected every 5 years by the 375 million adults of the European Union, with seats allocated in proportion to the populations of the member countries. It has significant but limited legislative powers. It does not initiate legislation, but frequently asks the Commission to do so. On "sensitive" questions (e.g. taxation, industrial policy, agricultural policy) it has only an advisory rôle, but on other matters, including the budget, it legislates jointly, and on equal bicameral terms with the Council of Ministers.
European Free Trade Association
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental organisation set up for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to the benefit of its four Member States. Its member states are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The 2011 output of Europe's 51 countries was worth $15,390 billion (roughly the same as that of the United States). About 70 per cent of that output came from its five largest economies (Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain). Almost half of its economies are classified by the International Monetary Fund as developing or emerging, including Russia and the former satellites of the Soviet Union (column 14 of the states of Europe table).
Most of its developing economies are in an advanced state of transition from command economies to market economies, and most are predominately industrial economies. In Europe as a whole, 5.6 per cent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture(compared with 1.5 per cent in the USA), which accounts for only 2.1 per cent of total output. Of the remaining workforce, 28 per cent is employed in industry (compared with 12 per cent in the USA), accounting for 26 per cent of domestic output, and 67 per cent in services (compared with 78 per cent in the USA), producing 72 per cent of domestic output.
After the United States, China and Japan, the world's largest manufacturing countries by value of output are Germany, Russia, Italy, the United Kingdom and France. Oil and gas production contributes significantly to the economies of Russia and Norway, and oil and gas from the North Sea is making a declining contribution to the British economy. There are large financial sectors in the major advanced economies of Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Spain, and also in Iceland and Ireland. Exports account for between a quarter and half of the output of most European economies (column 6 of the states of Europe table)
The levels of GDP per head vary widely among European countries (from below $3,000/year for Moldova to over $45,000 for Switzerland. compared with $47,000 for the USA(column 10 of the states of Europe table). The 2006 poverty rate varied between 10% and 23% in the countries of the European Union (compared with 13 per cent in the United States) with low levels of poverty in the Scandinavian countries, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia and relatively high levels in the Mediterranean and the Baltic states. Inequality of household income tends to be lower in Europe than in The United States and South America (Gini coefficients are generally below 35 compared with levels typically above 45.
The Great Recession caused a fall in Europe's total output of nearly 5 per cent, but with large variations in national impact. Unemployment rates rose above 10 per cent in Ireland, the Baltic states and most of the Balkans (see Europe in the Great Recession). Growth resumed throughout 2010 (except in Greece, Portugal. Iceland, Ireland and the Baltic States) and continued through 2011 for the European Union as a whole (but not for the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal) but public debt had risen, as a result of the recession, to over 70 per cent of GDP in Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy and Portugal (column 12 of the states of Europe table), and rose further in 2010 and 2011. Combinations of high debt and low growth prospects raised investor doubts about the fiscal sustainability of the PIIGS countries (Portugal. Ireland, Italy. Greece and Spain), making it difficult for them to roll-over their debt. The ensuing eurozone crisis has raised questions about the future of the eurozone.
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