Western Europe - Region facts
Western Europe is distinguished from Eastern Europe by differences of history and culture rather than by geography. However, these boundaries of Europe are subject to considerable overlap and fluctuation, which makes differentiation difficult. Thus the concept of Western Europe is associated with liberal democracy; and its countries have been considered to share some economic and political traditions with the United States of America and Canada — which have received millions of Western European settlers since the discovery of the New World.
Up to World War I, "Western Europe" was thought to comprise France, the British Isles and Benelux. These countries represented the democratic victors of both world wars; and their ideological approach was spread further east as a consequence, in a process not unlike the ideological effect of the Napoleonic Wars, when new ideas spread from revolutionary France.
During the Cold War, this ideological designation of Western Europe was supplemented with the aspect of market economies in the West versus the planned economies of Eastern Europe, reflecting the anti-Bolshevism that was aroused in Western Europe by the Russian Revolutions of 1917 and the remaining opposition to the Soviet Union in general. Thus Western Europe came to include both traditional democracies outside of NATO, as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, and some market economy dictatorships, as Portugal and Spain. This is also why NATO members such as Greece and Turkey were generally considered Western European even though they are geographically in the southeast. The border between Western and Eastern Europe, the Iron Curtain, was securely defended.
Until the enlargement of the European Union of 2004, Western Europe was sometimes associated with that Union, although non-members such as Norway and Switzerland unquestionably were considered parts of Western Europe. Today the connection to NATO or to the European Union increasingly may be perceived as historical. A common understanding of Western Europe includes the following parts:
The five Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark)
The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland
The Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg)
France and Monaco
The Alpine countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria)
The Italian peninsula (Italy, San Marino, Vatican City) and Malta
The Iberian peninsula Spain, Andorra, Portugal and Gibraltar
It ought to be borne in mind that the concepts of Europe's division overlap. The Nordic countries being counted to Western Europe does not at all hinder their also being considered part of Northern Europe. Similarly, the Alpine countries may be considered part of Central Europe, and Italy, the Iberian countries, Monaco, Greece and southern France part of Southern Europe as well.
The Alpine country of Slovenia may by some be counted to Western Europe, similarly to how some would consider Estonia as a Nordic country, and hence maybe also to Western Europe.
The Western Union
Not to be confused with the European Union (EU), the Western European Union (WEU) is a partially dormant European defence and security organization, established on the basis of the Treaty of Brussels of 1948 with the accession of West Germany and Italy in 1954.
The Treaty of Brussels
The Treaty of Brussels was signed by the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands on March 17, 1948. It was a mutual intergovernmental self defence treaty which also promoted economic, cultural and social collaboration. As a result of the failure of the European Defence Community on October 23, 1954 the WEU was established with the incorporation of the then West Germany and Italy. Its two stated aims were:
To afford assistance to each other in resisting any policy of aggression
To promote unity and to encourage the progressive integration of Europe
Most of its functions are in the process of being merged into the EU. The Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU is composed of the delegations of the member states to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which, fearful for its future existence with the winding up of the WEU, has been lobbying for itself to be recognised as the "European Security and Defence Assembly".
Some of the moves that have taken place and indicate the partial merger of the WEU into the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU have been the following:
On November 20, 1999, Javier Solana, who is the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU, was also appointed Secretary-General of the WEU. His being head of both organisations permits him to oversee the ongoing transfer of functions from the WEU to the EU.
The Petersberg tasks, declared by the WEU in 1992, were incorporated in 1997 into the treaty of Amsterdam of the EU, forming the basis of the European Security and Defence Policy which frames a common policy to deal with humanitarian and rescue, peacekeeping and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.
The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) and European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC), both established to function under the EU's CFSP pillar, are replacements to the Western European Union Institute for Security Studies and the Western Union Satellite Centre which had been established to function in connection to the WEU.
Supposedly full merger was to occur in 2000; however, as of 2004 the WEU is still alive and much European military planning takes place within its constituent cells. New York University's book, Defending Europe, paints the situation as a "revival of the WEU" rather than a shutting down of it. On June 14, 2001, Solana stated that there was no forseeable reason to change the status of the non member countries in the organisation.
The WEU has a rotating 6 month presidency. When the President of the Council of the EU belongs to a country that is also a member of the EU then that member is also the President of the WEU, and when a non member heads the EU a different member state takes over the presidency. Until July 1 Luxembourg is President when he will hand over to the UK. Unusually the UK will continue as President for a second term on January 1, 2006 when non-member Austria takes over the EU presidency.
Eurofor (European Operational Rapid Force) is a task force of the Western European Union that became operational in June 1998.
On 15 May 1995, the Council of Ministers of the WEU met in Lisbon. Declaration of EUROFOR's creation was made by France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
The Western European Union has 10 member countries, 6 associate member countries, 5 observer countries and 7 associate partner countries. They are as follows:
Member countries: (modified Brussels Treaty - 1954)
All of them being members of both NATO and the European Union. These are the only nations that have full voting rights.
France , Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal (March 27, 1990), Spain (March 27, 1990), Greece (1995)
Associate member countries: (Rome - 1992)
Associate membership was created to include the European countries that were members of NATO but not of the European Union. Since then, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have also joined the EU.
Turkey, Norway, Iceland, Poland (1999), Czech Republic (1999), Hungary (1999)
Observer countries: (Rome - 1992)
Most observer countries are members of the European Union, but not of NATO. Denmark is an exception, being member of both.
Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Austria (1995), Sweden (1995), Finland (1995)
Associate partner countries: (Kirchberg - 1994)
Countries that were part of neither NATO nor of the EU. Since then most of the following countries have joined both, with the exception of Bulgaria and Romania who have so far only joined NATO, but are candidates of EU-membership, expected to join on January 1, 2007.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia (1996)
EU member states not involved in WEU