Western Europe


1.       Regional Characteristics

o       Physical Environment

o       Climate

o       Agriculture

o       Economic Development

2.   Demographic Analysis

o       Population

o       Under 15 / Over 65

o       Infant Mortality

o       Population Density

o       GNI PPP

3.      Countries

o       Germany

o       France

o       Netherlands

o       Belgium

o       Austria

o       Switzerland

o       Luxembourg

o       Liechtenstein

o       Monaco

4.      References

5.      Review Questions


Regional Characteristics

The three major physical land features of Western Europe are Great European Plain, the Central Uplands, and the Alpine mountain system.  The Great European Plain stretches east of the Pyrenees Mountains, in southern France and northern Spain to the Ural Mountains in Eastern Europe.  It is here where a majority of the Western European agriculture takes place.  The Central Uplands is a hilly and rugged plateau that crosses the central part of Europe.  This area could be described to look like that Appalachian Mountains of the United States.  The Alpine Region which runs through three of the major peninsulas of Western Europe, the Iberian, the Italian, and the Balkan.  The Alps could be considered the Rocky Mountains of Europe, with peaks that frequently rise over 10,000 feet, and some top 15,000 feet.   The major rivers of the area also have a great influence, such as the Po River in Northern Italy and the Rhine River that separates Germany from France.  These rivers provide adequate water for agriculture and industry, as well as provide transportation of industrial resources. 

The climate of Western Europe is a marine climate.  Its abundant moisture comes from the Atlantic Ocean.  The ocean moderates the temperature during the seasons, making the winter moist and mild, and the summer moist and cool. This climate primarily stays to the north of the Alps, thus considering the Alps a climatic divide. 

Although Western Europe is very industrially developed, agriculture is the main form of land use.  Throughout Western Europe the lands are used for many different types of agriculture, which is caused by the differences in climates and the different terrain that can be found in each region.  The distinct types of agriculture are Mediterranean polyculture, dairy farming, and mixed livestock and crop farming.  Mediterranean polyculture is a continuous ribbon along the Mediterranean coast.  Wheat, a crop that has been grown since early times, grows though the moist and mild winter for the spring harvest.  Deep rooted vines and trees also are grown, like olives and grape, grow near the warm Mediterraneane   This area could be considered close to the agriculture that is performed in California.  Dairy farming takes up a considerable area to the north of the Mediterranean.  This belt is located in the Alps of France, Switzerland, and Austria.  A second dairy belt exists, in the north, starting in the British Isles and the Breton Peninsula along the shores of the North and Baltic seas.  The climate is characterized by being very cloudy and cool.  The mixed livestock and crop farming take place between the northern dairy belt and the Mediterranean polyculture.  This mix is due to the physical landscape and its climate.  Although changing very rapidly, the agriculture remains one of the areas most important industries.

The countries of Western Europe are the "hub" of European economics.  These countries economies are based on industry, although agriculture will always be an important part.  Some examples of industry are Germany's high value cars, Switzerland's watch industry and high-tech instruments, France's high speed trains, and space products.  A new addition to the Western European economy is the French and German joint effort to enter the airplane industry.  Their effort is called Airbus, with factories in France and Germany, which serves all major airlines throughout the world.  The Western European countries needed to realize that their industries were falling behind.  Thus brought the European Union (EU), which is a diverse group of countries that joined together so that their economy could compete with those of the United States and Japan.           

 Demographic Analysis

European   Country

Population            (in Millions)

% Under 15

% Over  65

Rate of Increase

Proj. Pop. For 2025

Proj. Pop. For 2050

Population Density

Infant  Mortality

GNI PPP (in US $)



























































































The populations for these countries vary considerably, mainly because the sizes of the countries differ so much. The rates that these countries are increasing in population seem little but they are actually substantially higher then the rates across the globe. The largest rate being Monaco even though there is an already outrageous population density.  In Germany there is actually population shrinkage, increasing at a rate of -0.2, which shows a continual decreased from previous years.  In comparison to the rest of the European continent, Western Europe has a very high population growth.  Most of Eastern Europe faces a shrinking population same with many countries in Southern Europe, and Northern Europe.

The numbers for the percent of the population under fifteen, and over sixty five are pretty evened out.  The number that sticks out the most is Liechtenstein with an over 65 population of only 22%, which increased rapidly from a couple years back of only 10%.  Overall, the countries of Western Europe are very close to the numbers that are seen in the Untied States.

Looking at infant mortality from the population data sheet shows a very small range of numbers.  These ranged from the highest of 4.4 to the lowest at 2.9.  Looking at the Western Europe compared to the rest of the country we see fairly low numbers, considering parts of Eastern Europe have rates in the teens.  We can interpret this to mean Western Europe has good healthcare.

The population density seems like it would be spread out over the larger countries, but many of the people are city dwellers.  During industrialization, Europeans moved to cities and settled in the inner, middle, and outer rings of the city.  It wasnít until the Counterurbanization occurred in the 1960s, when mass amounts of people left the cities and moved to rural areas.  The population density is so high in smaller countries like Monaco, the people already live so extremely close with one another and can only expect to be closer with the rate at such a high increase.

The final selected category is the GNI PPP.  All of the western countries are in the 30 and 40 thousands with the exception of Luxemburg. With the country being so small and with the income available they are certainly going to be more prosperous.  In fact, Luxembourg is the world leader in GNI PPP.  These figures are also very close to the figures of Northern Europe, its closest competition for this category.         


The most populous country of Western Europe is Germany.  Germany is located in the northern central area of Europe.  It is surrounded by the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Austria and Poland.  It has a population of 82.3 million as of the middle of 2007.  Germany is further broken up into sixteen states, of which some predate the country itself.  These states are what give the country its unique cultural experiences and political traditions.  Six of these states were in the former East Germany.  It is in this part of Germany, Saxony, were the cities of Leipzig and Dresden are found.  It is in these cities that you can find the most visible effects of World War II.  On the other side of Germany, are the industrial capitols.  North Rhine-Westphalia is the leading industrial state which contains the Ruhr industrial complex in the cities of Bonn and KolnGermanyís financial headquarters are located in Frankfurt, which is also the air hub of Germany.  Baden-Wurttemberg and Bavaria are two states in the south of the country, which contain very high levels of technology and modern industry.  With enormous public works projects, and rebuilding, the integration of East and West Germany are still continuing, because of almost forty years of neglect.

Along with Germany, France is another of Western Europeís industrial powers.  France is one of the oldest countries in the world, with its capitol in Paris.  It is because of the Seine River and protective walls around Paris that allowed the culture and economy to be unchecked until World War II.  Paris dominates the entire country, especially in the north and central.  In the southern cities of Marseilles and Nice the influence of Paris is less noticeable.  But it is in these cities that many multi-national and industrial companies have their headquarters.  The economy is dominated by being the world leading supplier of high speed trains, aircraft, fiber optic communications, and space related technologies.  It is also a world leader by providing 75% of its power from nuclear power, and in the same breath reduces its dependence on imported oil.  Agriculture is also a major aspect of the French economy, even more so than GermanyFrance is the second largest Western European country with a population of 61.7 million people.

Also known as Holland, The Netherlands is one more country that is both productive in agriculture and industry.  The population of Netherlands is 16.4 million inhabitants.  The Netherlands mainly produces dairy product, meats, vegetables, and other food.  Amsterdam is a busy port city that has a very prosperous diamond trade as well as various types of light manufacturing.  Amsterdam is also considered the cultural center of The Netherlands.  Rotterdam is the busiest port in Europe, mainly do to the oil exported from the Middle East to Europe.  Another fact is that the World Court, of the United Nations is located in the third major city, The Hague.   

Belgium is one of the healthiest economies in Western Europe.  It is a major exporter of coal, natural gas, iron, steel, and transportation equipment.  One of the most prestigious parts of Belgiumís economy is the presence of the headquarters of many European organizations.  Located in the capital of Belgium, Brussels, the home of the EUís European Commission, serves as the administrative center for international economic organization, and the headquarters of NATO.  The culture is very segregated, with the Flemings in the north, and the Walloons in the south.  The difference is in language and religion.  The Walloons, French speaking Protestants, live mainly in the north, while the Flemings, Dutch speaking Roman Catholics, live in the southern part of Belgium.  The population of Belgium is 10.6 million people.

Although wedged between eight other European countries, Austria is of moderate size, located in the alps.  Surrounded by mountains, it gets very cold during the winters with cold wet winds.  In the summer however it does get relatively warm.  Trade in Austria has strictly been with Germany making the economy of Austria, although wealthy, dependent upon the economy of Germany.  Many of Austrians are German speaking.  The education there is one of the most exceptional on the world however many students donít go on to universities.

One of the most diverse countries of Western Europe is Switzerland with a population of 7.5 million.  The language of the country is broken up into four major languages, German in the north, French in the west, Italian in the southwest, and Romansch is used in the highland areas.  This language barrier has been broken by the economic success of Switzerland.  It is traditionally thought of Switzerland as being a neutral country, but because of this neutrality, a strong military is necessary.  Any able-bodied man, aged 19-45 is to serve the military for a minimum of 18 months, after which they are enrolled in the reserves until age forty five.  Switzerland is the only Western European countries not in the European Union.  The Swiss rely on their banking system to support their economy.  Zurich, located in the German sector of northern Switzerland, serves as the banking center of the country.   

As one of the banking leaders of the world, Luxembourg is very prosperous.  Luxembourg has become a country that is known for foreign banking because of its lenient restrictions, in comparison with other European countries.  With a population of 0.5 a million people, Luxembourg relies on guest workers to work its iron and steel industries, its major exports.  It draws many people in from surrounding countries for work since it is so small and so close.

Liechtenstein is a small country bordered by Switzerland and Austria that is only 15 miles long from north to south.  There are only 5 countries smaller that Liechtenstein, one of them being Monaco. A river creates the border to the west, and has a mountainous terrain due to the European Alps.  Snow covered winters welcome tourists for winter sports on the slopes.  Although they donít share and borders with Germany, the majority of the population is German speaking.  Liechtenstein is extremely industrialized and has a highly prosperous economy, partly due to being a tax haven like Monaco.  They also donít have and army which allows them to keep money in the pockets of their citizens.

Monaco, a tiny country surrounded by France, is the smallest French speaking country in the world.  The population is souring even with such an already dense population per square km.  Its inhabitants are mainly foreigners and extremely wealthy.  Many believe the wealth is due to no income tax.  Although they are surrounded but France, the French are not the largest ethnic group in the country.  Early on, Monaco signed a treaty with France the stated if Monaco was ever invaded France would come to their defense.  Even with such protection, Monaco has the largest police force in the world.


1)  Clawson, David L.  World Regional Geography: A Development Approach 7th editionUpper Saddle River, New JerseyMacmillan Publishing Company 2000.

2)  De Blig, H.J.; Miller, Peter O.  Geography: Realms Regions and Concepts 10th edition.  New York, New York, John Wiley and Sons Inc. 2001.

3)  Population Data Sheet.  Population Data Bureau 2007.

4)  Clawson; Johnson; Harmann; Johnson. World Regional Geography 9th edition.  2006.

Review Questions

1. Both the Alps and the Pyrenees have served to?

     A. isolate and define populations on either side of them, such as the Dutch and the Belgians.

     B. create a series of open pathways across the map of Europe.

     C. define a Northern European society on the one hand, and a Mediterranean European society on the other.

     D. separate the Slavic languages from the Germanic

2. Western European climates tend to be noticeably milder than their latitudinal equivalents in North America because?

     A. Eurasia is a larger continent

     B. Western Europe is closer to the North Pole

     C. of the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf stream

     D. there are no high mountains in Western Europe

3. As a result of their central location, the nations of Western Europe?

     A. enjoy relatively easy potential for contact with most of the inhabited world and its resources

     B. tend to be very large by world standards

     C. are assured of easy markets for whatever they can produce

     D. dominate decision-making at World conferences

4. What is Western Europe's most densely populated country?

     A. Monaco

     B. the Netherlands

     C. France

     D. Italy

     E. Germany

5. Two countries whose citizens rejected membership in the European Economic Community are?

     A. Norway and Switzerland

     B. the United Kingdom and Ireland

     C. France and Germany

     D. Spain and Greece

6. Denmark's most important economic advantage is its

     A. coal

     B. hydroelectricity

     C. skilled labor

     D. copper ore

What is the European Community country with the highest percentage of its workers engaged in primary activities (mainly agriculture)?

     A. the Netherlands

     B. West Germany

     C. Ireland

     D. United Kingdom

8. Ethnically very diverse and with four "official" languages, this country's policy of strict political neutrality has kept it from becoming a member of the European Community despite its central location?

     A. Austria

     B. Sweden

     C. Belgium

     D. Switzerland

     E. Luxembourg

9. The Western European country, a member of the EC, which became a major petroleum producer with production from North Sea wells in the 1980's is?

     A. Denmark

     B. France

     C. United Kingdom

     D. Sweden

     E. Ireland

10. This country appears poorly endowed by nature when compared to most other Western European countries. Mountainous terrain and an unfavorably dry climate make much of the country poorly suited for farming, and there are not significant deposits of coal or iron ore. It is also divided between an agriculturally and industrially well-endowed north and a much poorer south. Even with these obvious drawbacks, it rates as the world's seventh most important industrial power.

     A. France

     B. Belgium

     C. Germany

     D. Portugal

     E. Italy


11. Of the following western European countries, which has the largest population?

     A. Great Britain

     B. France

     C. Germany

     D. Sweden

     E. Italy

12. Deemed essential in the boom years of the 1960's and early 1970's, this group is now seen as a serious social problem in several western European countries.

     A. guest workers

     B. industrial workers

     C. service workers

     D. domestic workers

13. The term 'Velvet Revolution' describes

     A. the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in late 1989

     B. the communist take-over in the Soviet Union

     C. social reform in Hungary during the 1980's

     D. the Polish solidarity movement

Which of the following European countries has the highest standard of living as defined by GNI PPP per capita?

     A. France

     B. Belgium

     C. Netherlands

     D. Germany

     E. Monaco

15. Identify the sharpest difference in standard of living among neighboring countries.

     A. Spain / Portugal

     B. Switzerland / France

     C. Austria / Italy

     D. Denmark / Germany

     E. Germany / Poland

16. Which of the following countries has been most successful in sustaining a high level of industrial productivity?

     A. Great Britain

     B. Italy

     C. Yugoslavia

     D. Germany

     E. Spain

17. Which of the following countries does not border the Baltic Sea?

     A. Germany

     B. Poland

     C. Netherlands

     D. Denmark

     E. Lithuania

18. In driving from Lisbon to Rotterdam, in which countries would you drive through?

     A. Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands

     B. France, Belgium, Netherlands

     C. Andorra, France, Netherlands

     D. Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands

     E. Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands

19. Which of the following are landlocked states in Europe?

     A. Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg

     B. Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg

     C. Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Luxembourg

     D. Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg

     E. Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Denmark

Initially submitted by Sara Wagner 10/22/96. Resubmitted by Jeremy Fischer 3/4/97 and Bill Kellner 6/15/97.  Edited by Karen Oyler 10/12/03. Resubmitted by Matthew Burke 11/25/03. Edited by Jessica Davis 4/11/08.