Western Europe

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Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the westernmost region of Europe, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity — the region lying in the Western part of Europe. Another definition was created during the Cold War and used to describe the non-Communist states of Europe that were allied with the United States to some degree. For this purpose the Western European Union, a defence agreement among Western European nations during the Cold War, was created in 1948. As a result, geographically central and eastern countries that steered clear of Soviet influence during the Cold War are usually included, while western members of the former Eastern Bloc (with the exception of Eastern Germany) are excluded.

Countries described as Western European are invariably high-income developed countries, characterized by democratic political systems, mixed economies combining the free market with aspects of the welfare state, and most are members of NATO and the European Union.



Classical antiquity and medieval origins

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. In contrast, the western territories 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.

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