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After watching this video, you will be able to describe some of the factors that have influenced the boundaries and political divisions in Europe, past and present. A short quiz will follow.

What is Europe?

Europe is not always clearly defined. When a person says ‘Europe,’ do they mean the geographical continent? Countries where people consider themselves to be European? The European Union? The European Economic Area? Countries with ties to Western Europe? There are so many ways to define ‘Europe.’ Even geographically and scientifically, it’s hard because Europe and Asia could be considered part of one larger tectonic plate called the Eurasian Plate. Historically, the definition of Europe has been constantly changing, too.

Mostly it’s agreed that the Mediterranean Sea marks the southern end of Europe, the Atlantic Ocean marks the west end, and the Arctic Ocean marks the north. But the east has changed a lot over the decades and centuries.Going beyond Europe as a whole, humans being humans, we find ways to create even more borders. Within Europe are the borders of many countries. Indeed, Europe contains around 50 countries, 28 of which are part of the European Union.The European Union (or EU) is a political and economic union of 28 member states that promotes free trade and cooperation.

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Key bodies of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, and the European Parliament. It also includes the European Court of Human Rights.The EU aims to allow the free movement of people, capital, goods, and services between member countries. The EU came to be gradually in the aftermath of World War II as the countries of Europe started to work together more and more, reducing the chance of another world war. But this era of cooperation was not the norm in much of Europe’s history.

Why Do Political Divisions Exist?

Political divisions can exist across the world and Europe is no exception. From a cultural perspective, borders and divisions give people a sense of identity.

They’re tied to ethnic heritage, history, and language. They mark the home of a particular group of people, even if that home has been claimed by multiple groups over the ages.But beyond cultural reasons, there are more practical or economic ones. Land is of great value, from the natural resources it holds, to the economic activity that can be done on that land. This is why people have fought so many wars over land; seemingly, over lines on a map.

But it isn’t just pure greed and desire for more that creates borders. It can also be about ideologies. During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain was the border between Western European countries that held similar values to the United States (many of the same values that began in Ancient Greece and Rome) and the eastern countries influenced by the USSR. This barrier even cut through the center of a city, splitting the German capital of Berlin east to west. In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union fell, but the political geography of Europe remains affected to this day.We could also highlight the political divisions between Catholic and Protestant countries as a source of tension in the 18th and 19th centuries; yet another way to draw political boundaries.

Wars, Countries, ; Borders

Unfortunately, not all wars are cold. Even before the two World Wars, Europe was tumultuous and seemingly constantly at war. The most powerful countries like the UK, France, and Spain, all had their own empires, and competed with each other for land, resources, and power across the world. This translated into wars all over the world. Even before these empires developed, wars between these countries were common in Europe. France and the United Kingdom, for example, have historically spent huge amounts of time at war with one another.Those wars and their aftermaths are a large part in determining the borders of countries, and are responsible for many of the borders between countries in Europe to this day.

The aftermath of World War I was particularly significant, as the Ottoman and Hungarian Empires were broken up into lots of smaller countries.And then there are physical boundaries. As part of these wars, it’s often the case that certain natural features prove hard to conquer. Crossing a large river with an army can be difficult, as can passing over mountain ranges. So it shouldn’t be surprising that rivers and mountains often form natural borders between countries in Europe.

Lesson Summary

Europe is not always clearly defined. There’s the continent of Europe, the tectonic plate that includes Europe, countries that consider themselves European, the European Union, and many other ways to define the area. But whatever Europe is, it’s certainly a part of the world that has seen huge changes in its political boundaries and divisions.Within Europe are the borders of many countries.

Indeed, Europe contains around 50 countries, 28 of which are part of the European Union. The European Union (or EU) is a political and economic union of 28 member states, which promotes free trade and cooperation. The EU Parliament is elected by EU citizens every five years.The EU aims to allow the free movement of people, capital, goods, and services between member countries.

This political and economic alliance came to be gradually in the aftermath of World War II, as countries of Europe started to work together more and more, reducing the chance of another world war. But this era of cooperation was not the norm in much of Europe’s history. And those wars were often about drawing lines on a map.From a cultural perspective, borders and divisions give people a sense of identity. They’re tied to ethnic heritage, history, and language. They mark the home of a particular group of people, even if that home has been claimed by multiple groups over the ages. But land is also of great value, for the natural resources it holds, to the economic activity that can be done on that land.

This is why people have fought so many wars over land.But borders can also be about ideologies. During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain was the border between Western European countries that held similar values to the United States and the eastern countries influenced by the USSR.War is a big reason for why the boundaries and divisions in Europe exist. The most powerful countries like the UK, France, and Spain, all once had their own empires, and competed with each other for land, resources and power across the world. This translated into wars all over the world. Even before these empires developed, wars between these countries were common in Europe.

Those wars and their aftermaths are a large part in determining the borders of countries and are responsible for many of the borders between countries in Europe to this day. The aftermath of World War I was particularly significant, as the Ottoman and Hungarian Empires were broken up into lots of smaller countries.And then there are the physical boundaries. As part of these wars, it’s often the case that certain natural resources prove hard to conquer. Crossing a river with an army or passing over mountain ranges can be difficult.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that rivers and mountains often form natural barriers between countries in Europe.

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