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2.2: Cooperation and Control in Europe

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  • Europe’s physical landforms, climate, and underlying resources have shaped the distribution of people across the region.When early humans began settling this region, they likely migrated through the Caucasus Mountains of Southwest Asia and across the Bosporus Strait from what is now Turkey into Greece. The Greeks provided much of the cultural and political foundations for modern European society. Greek ideals of democracy, humanism, and rationalism reemerged in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment. The Roman Empire followed the Greek Empire, pushing further into Europe and leaving its own marks on European society (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Modern European architecture, governance, and even language can be traced back to the Roman Empire’s influence.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of the Roman Empire, 117 AD/CE (Map by Andrei nacu, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

    The Roman’s vast European and Southwest Asian empire united the region under Christianity and created new networks of roads and trading ports. With the fall of the Roman Empire, however, tribal and ethnic allegiances reemerged and a number of invasions and migrations occurred. England, for example, was settled by the Germanic Anglo-Saxons, from which the name “England” or “Angeln” is derived, then by the Normans from present-day France.

    Europe today is comprised of 40 countries, but historically, this was a region dominated by kingdoms and empires – even fairly recently. A map of Europe from just 200 years ago looks strikingly different from today’s political boundaries (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)) . At that time, Greece and Turkey were still controlled by the Ottoman Empire and Italy was a conglomerate of various city-states and independent kingdoms. Many of the countries and political boundaries of Europe we know today were not formed until after World War II.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Map of Europe, 1812 CE (© Alexander Altenhof, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Europe’s population has shifted and changed over time as well. Whereas Europe was once largely feudal and agrarian, today around 75 percent of its people live in cities. Europe’s largest city is London, with a population of around 8.5 million within its city limits. Although the United Kingdom was the dominant force in Europe during industrialization, Germany now dominates the region in terms of population, gross domestic product, and size.

    The political map of Europe continues to change, with shifting alliances, competing goals, and new pushes for independence. In general, Western Europe has moved toward cooperation. The European Union developed out of the Benelux Economic Union signed in 1944 between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. France, Italy, and West Germany signed an economic agreement with the Benelux states in 1957, and from there, the economic cooperation continued to expand. The European Union (EU) itself was created in 1993 and today, the organization has 28 member countries (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)). Not all members of the EU use the euro, its official currency; the 19 member states who do are known as the eurozone.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): The European Union and the Eurozone (Derivative work from original by JLogan, Wikimedia Commons)

    Today, it is relatively easy to travel across Europe, in part because of economic and monetary cooperation, but also because internal border checks have largely been abolished. The Schengen Agreement, signed in the 1990s allows member states to essentially function as a single territory in terms of entry. These states share a common visa system and residents and vehicles can travel freely throughout states participating in the agreement.

    Although the European Union has provided member states with a number of advantages, the system has had some structural concerns. Greece, for example, admitted to the EU in 1981, adopted the euro in 2001. It has had continued issues with debt, however, and has required massive bailouts from other member states. The United Kingdom held a referendum in June 2016 and decided to leave the EU, the first time a country has made the decision to leave the organization. When analyzing the EU and its advantages and disadvantages, you might consider why a country would join a supranational organization. To join an organization like the EU, a country gives up some of its sovereignty, its independence in making economic, political, or legal decisions. Ideally, a country would gain more than it loses. Countries united economically can more easily facilitate trade, for example, or could share a common military rather than each supporting their own. Those who favored the United Kingdom withdrawing from the EU, however, argued that membership in the EU did not offer enough advantages and preferred the United Kingdom to control its own trade deals and immigration restrictions.

    Devolution, which occurs when regions within a state seek greater autonomy, has continued in Europe, representing a tension between nationalistic ideals and ethnic ties. In the United Kingdom, a 2014 Scottish independence referendum was narrowly defeated but led to greater autonomy for Scotland. In general, policies offering increased autonomy have kept the map of Western Europe fairly intact. Ethnic groups seeking sovereignty often want political autonomy but economic integration, and thus devolution generally allows them more decision-making power.

    In the Balkan region, however, strong ethnic identities has contributed to continued political instability and the formation of new states. In fact, the devolutionary forces found in this region led to the creation of the term Balkanization, referring to the tendency of territories to break up into smaller, often hostile units. The Balkans came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, and once the empire collapsed following World War I, several territories in this region were joined together as the country of Yugoslavia (Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\)). Following World War II, Yugoslavia was led by Josip Broz Tito who attempted to unify the region by suppressing ethnic allegiances in favor of national unity. After his death, however, those ethnic tensions reemerged. In the 1990s, Yugoslavia was led by the dictator Slobodan Miloševi´c, a Serbian who supported a genocidal campaign against the region’s Croats, Bosnians, and Albanians. In Bosnia alone, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed. Most recently, Kosovo, comprised mostly of Albanian Muslims, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, though its status as a sovereign state is still contested by some, including Serbia, Bosnia, and Greece.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Map of Former Yugoslavia (United Nations, Public Domain)

    The map of Europe continues to evolve. In February 2019, for instance, the country formerly known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia officially changed its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, or just North Macedonia, resolving a long dispute with Greece.

    While some countries in the region have decidedly benefitted from globalization, others remain fairly limited in terms of global trade and global economic integration. Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\), a map of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita reveals a marked difference between the states of Western Europe and the eastern region. Germany’s GDP per capita as of 2017, for example, was $44,470 (in US dollars), according to the World Bank. In Moldova, a former Soviet republic bordering Romania, that figure was $2,290.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): GDP (in PPP) per capita, 2012 from WorldBank (© XNeverEver, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
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