Influence of Geographic Factors on Politics in Europe

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  • 0:01 What is Political Geography
  • 0:49 Historical Factors
  • 3:35 Current Political…
  • 6:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe how geographic factors have affected politics in Europe throughout its history. A short quiz will follow.

What Is Political Geography?

Political geography is the study of the relationships between governments, citizens and countries, both external and internal, and their effects on those citizens and countries. Studying political geography means looking at the political landscape of an area and considering the factors that have affected or led to that situation.

In the case of Europe, this is a land with an extremely long history, and most likely, a long future. The relationships between governments, citizens and countries has continually evolved and changed. The politics of the past have impacted the politics of today and the politics of the future.

Today, we're going to talk about some of the historical geographical reasons that have affected the politics of Europe and how those have led to the current political geography.

Historical Factors

Europe is a continent full of history. Regular people in Europe pass buildings every day that are older than the United States itself. So summarizing the historical factors is difficult. But there are some factors that are too important not to mention. Europeans have shaped ideas about citizenship and government globally and had a huge impact on the whole world.

Going all the way back to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, their ideals and systems of government affect Europe and the world to this day. Greece, with its democratic city-states, is described as the birthplace of democracy. Since the political bodies there were made up of citizens, this was the birth of the entire concept of citizenship, which is so important in modern democracy to this day.

Ancient Rome is also important because it gave Europe many of its ideas about law, government and military force. European empires (the British, French and Spanish empires) are heavily influenced by the Roman Empire and their approach to governance.

Much later, World War I and II were significant political events in Europe's history. After World War I, the Ottoman and Hungarian empires were broken down into lots of small countries. This completely re-wrote the borders of Europe and is very heavily responsible for many of the borders that persist to this day.

Though those borders were further shaken up during World War II, where a total of 43 million Europeans died. The British and French lost significant worldwide influence due to the heavy costs of the war. The British, in particular, spent so much money and lost so many citizens, it was effectively the last nail in the coffin of the British Empire. Politically, this experience has also affected European sensitivity to racism and fascism: Pledges of allegiance, ID cards (or show-me-your-papers laws), overuse of national flags and racial slurs tend to worry Europeans to this day.

The United States and USSR rose to the ascendancy and became more politically important than Europe. But Europe remained a key battleground even in the competition between these two nations. 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 European countries influenced by the USSR. This barrier was so extreme, it even cut through the center of a city, splitting the German capital of Berlin into an east and west side. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union fell, but the political geography of Europe remains affected to this day.

Current Political Geography of Europe

The aftermath of the Cold War can be seen in the modern political geography of Europe. Eastern Europe was far more tied to Russia, both culturally and politically. Gradually, the West influenced these eastern countries, but the process was slow and gradual. Many of them have large ethnically Russian populations even today.

But even while the Cold War was ongoing, new peacetime political structures were being developed. In 1957, in the aftermath of World War II, the European Economic Community (or EEC) was set up between several prominent European countries. The idea was to promote free trade, common cause and common social, environmental, economic and military policies. This only grew over the years, and after the fall of the USSR, the idea expanded into the European Union (EU) we know today.

The Maastricht Treaty that officially set up the EU was signed in 1993. The modern European Union is a political and economic union of 28 member states that promotes free trade and cooperation. Key bodies of the European Union 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 European Parliament is elected by EU citizens every five years. It has been highly successful and has grown rapidly. They've even developed an optional currency that some countries have adopted, called the Euro. It is arguably the second-most important currency in the world today.

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