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Map of Western Europe

Map of Western Europe

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.

The United Nations (UN) Statistics Division considers Western Europe to consist of just nine countries, although the United Nations Regional Groups include European countries from the so called UN-designated Northern and Southern Europe in its Western European and Others Group.

The world changed dramatically with the fall of the "Iron Curtain" in 1989. The Federal Republic of Germany peacefully absorbed the German Democratic Republic, leading to the German reunification. COMECON and the Warsaw Pact were dissolved, and in 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Several countries which had been part of the Soviet Union regained their full independence.

Although the term Western Europe was largely a term of the Cold War, it still remains much in use. The term is commonly used in the media and in everyday use both in "western" and other regions of Europe.

Western Europe has increasingly less to do with the European Union.[citation needed] The 1995, 2004, and 2007 enlargements saw many post-Soviet countries joining the EU, and a view that Europe is divided strictly into the West and the East is sometimes considered patronising or pejorative by many in the countries geographically located in Central Europe and the Baltic states.