In many ways, Europe is quite remarkable. It claims only about 2% of the world’s landmass but her people have been influential in shaping world politics for millennia.

Not just politics, either! Europe, in particular western and southern Europe, has led the world in scientific discovery and literary achievement, military power and global economic security.

Another extraordinary attribute of Europe is, for so comparatively small a region, she has a wide range of climates and terrain that permits culturing a dazzling array of consumables.

Although Europe is defined as a continent in her own right, this grouping of nations actually lies on the Eurasian plate; a tectonic plate that reaches from China to far beyond our seemingly independent island.

Several geographical barriers mark Europe’s separation from what we commonly refer to as Asia; among them are included mountain ranges and rivers.

Culture, ethnicity, language and belief systems further mark the sharp contrast between the people of Eurasia.

So what, exactly, do we mean when we say Europe? In broaching this topic, we take into consideration most of the sovereign states of Europe.

According to the Montevideo Convention, a sovereign state is recognised in international law as:

  • a country that has a defined population
  • a nation with its own government
  • a defined territory marked by borders
  • a government that can engage in relations with another nation-state.

From the emerging powers in Eastern Europe to the political heavies leading western European nations, your Superprof now uncovers the geopolitical environment of the region called Europe.

The Geopolitical Background of Europe

Europe's many geographical features makes it a prime location for trade
Mountainous regions form a natural barrier between some European countries Image by Helmut H. Kroiss from Pixabay

The region we know today as Southern Europe, specifically Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, is credited with laying the foundation of Western civilisation.

Indeed they were highly advanced philosophically and academically and they were perfectly positioned to migrate throughout Europe, educating those who would hear them (or would be subjugated by them) as they travelled north.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476AD brought an end to that era but, by then, the die had been cast.

The yearning for discovery in Europe was fuelled by earlier education ventures; soon entire armadas sailed off to explore the world and claim territory in the name of their country’s crown.

Yes, there were crowns aplenty, in Europe!

Apparently not satisfied with a mere kingdom, many European heads of state set about building an empire for themselves.

A fine example of this is in how Spain’s sovereignty still impacts geopolitics in Latin America.

Portugal, a relatively small portion of land on the Iberian peninsula, was the first to form a vast empire consisting of lands in South America, East Asia and along both coasts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Once the fleets set sail, there was no stopping them. Soon, the prominent monarchies of Western Europe had pretty much carved the world up amongst themselves, ours included.

At one time, our British Empire laid claim to nearly a quarter of the earth’s total landmass.

Those that resisted the western push, such as China and Japan, nevertheless eventually surrendered a bit of territory to these great world powers.

China and Japan feature heavily in East Asia’s geopolitics.

Considering the centuries-long push for acquisition and leadership, especially among Western European nations, it should come as no surprise that they would lead the world, economically and politically, still today.

Find out what kind of impact European colonialism had in Africa...

One can easily see the line separating east and west Europe
Looking at this map, it is easy to see Europe's east-west line of demarcation Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito... from Pixabay

Western versus Eastern Europe

The events of the early 20th Century brought Europe’s global hegemonic ambitions to a screeching halt.

More specifically, the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ that precipitated the First World War narrowed western European countries’ focus to the battles encroaching on their immediate territory.

The subsequent economic depression substantially lowered their standard of living which, in turn, gave rise to the capitalist economic model.

Germany was the only western European country to weather the Great Depression relatively well, in part because its economy was stimulated by arms production.

And then, just as individual citizens were discovering the path to riches, the Second World War broke out, plunging Europe once again into bloodshed, political and economic distress.

Shortly after the cessation of hostilities, tensions led to Russia blockading Eastern European nations and claiming all of those lands as satellite states, forming what is known as the East Bloc – a communist-socialist regime.

Meanwhile, Western Europe, having largely benefitted from political and strategic alliances during these difficult times, embraced liberalism and unity as a way of staving off the type of nationalism that had twice brought them to war.

The respective sides’ alliances and the radical differences in their political and economic ideals led to a figurative Iron Curtain being drawn between the two regions, marking the start of the Cold War.

For the next 44 years, there were two Europes: west and east. One developing and one hidden away.

As you might have noticed, we do not discuss Russian geopolitics in this article. For its sheer magnitude, that topic is broached in a separate article.

Europe: A Geopolitical Powerhouse

Many of western Europe’s geographical features such as rivers and coastlines provide natural shipping lanes, allowing for extensive trade... and those powers made ample use of them.

The resulting trade agreements led to Northern Europe being one of the most developed and wealthiest regions in the world.

That wealth and their reputation for economic stability, if not prosperity, made European countries the desired destination of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

One important point concerning Europe’s economy is that the northern countries are far better off than Southern Europe: Italy, Greece and, to a lesser extent, Spain are all struggling to manage on a less-than-stellar GDP.

Although economics is not considered a factor in geopolitical evaluations, economic concerns do play a part in how a country’s resources are marshalled for everything from energy security to trade deals.

Following the Cold War, the emerging markets of Eastern Europe sought to find the best fit for their unique cultures and political aspirations.

Poland and Hungary both became NATO members rather quickly and they both admire some of the principles espoused by the European Union... but not all of them: both countries have conservative governments that bristle at the EU’s more liberal leanings.

Nevertheless, they do benefit from their proximity to Western Europe, especially where trade and infrastructure development are concerned.

On the other hand, the Baltic States and Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria are all for the European Union, both for their pro-western stance and for the economic benefits and the protections they derive.

By no means does all of that imply that all is well and the European Union is going strong.

In the European Union’s cumulative 74 years, no member-state has actually left the Union. Great Britain was the first to formally signal an intent to withdraw pending an acceptable trade agreement.

Europe has some rough sailing ahead of her
Western Europe's waves of liberalism are crashing on the rocks of populism Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Rough Seas Ahead for Europe’s Most Powerful Nations

Trade is only one aspect of the negotiations for our leaving the European Union.

What we currently accept as Union rules and laws will become a matter of foreign policy after we leave. Everything from going on holiday to Spain to protecting our borders will become a matter of international relations.

We are by far not the only country flirting with disbanding the Union.

A global trend toward nationalism is doing far more to threaten the unity that, in some respects, has been the envy of other bodies of government elsewhere in the world.

Furthermore, populist sentiment is gaining traction across Western Europe.

In spite of the comparatively long list of social benefits that European citizens enjoy, many resent having to pay high taxes only to see those monies distributed... away from their collections of concerns and desires.

They also resent the opportunities given to foreign investors to draw ever more business, and thus more capital into the Union’s coffers while individuals in their respective nations can hardly stay ahead of their bills – let alone dream of their own startup.

Other governments, especially in southern Europe, rail against their currency being centrally controlled and balanced against wealthier nations such as Norway and Luxembourg, giving them no chance to adjust for inflation or manage its value.

It’s not for nothing that many consider Conte’s cabinet, formed just last year, to be the first populist government in Western Europe!

To be sure, disenchanted citizens is not a novel concept; throughout history, citizens rising up against their governments have changed virtually every country’s political path.

What turned the tide of liberalism so abundant in Western Europe was the surge of immigrants from Syria – ironically enough, a country that had been colonised by France and only recently returned to indigenous control.

As desperate people flooded into Central Europe, simmering resentments boiled over.

Now, not only did John/Jane Public have to see their tax euros spent on things that did not directly benefit them, they had to witness people who did not speak their language or share their culture reap the rewards of their labour!

Geopolitically, it is quite likely that Europe will remain a global leader; she had too many resources and is too well-situated to lose that crown.

Whether that leadership continues with countries and people united is, just now, seriously in question.

Europe and the Union are not suffering greatly from external pressure.

It is the internal quakes and jolts – including our country’s desire to divorce ourselves from them, that are making it difficult to find a clear path to progress.

Whether they will in today’s global geopolitical climate remains to be seen.

Now learn about geopolitics in every major region in the world...

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.