Western Europe


1.       Regional Characteristics

o       Climate

o       Physical Environment

o       Agriculture

o       Economic Development

2.      Demographic Analysis based on the Population Data Sheet

o       Population Growth

o       Population Under 15 / Over 65

o       Infant Mortality Rate

o       Percentage Urban

o       GNI PPP

3.      Countries

o       Germany

o       France

o       Belgium

o       The Netherlands

o       Luxembourg

o       Switzerland

o       Austria

o       Liechtenstein

o       Andorra

o       San Marino

4.      References

5.      Review Questions


Regional Characteristics


Western Europe is classified as a maritime climate.  Maritime weather is influenced by the ocean, in this case, the Atlantic Ocean.  The weather is often overcast.  Summers in Western Europe are usually moist and cool, due to cloud cover, and winters are moist and milder than other countries on the same latitude.  The North Atlantic Drift is also has an influence on Western Europe's climate.  The North Atlantic Drift, as stated on Wikipedia, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic Ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, exits through the Strait of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. This is why Western Europe tends to be warmer than other countries on the same latitude.  This climate stays north of the Alps, thus considering the Alps as a climatic divide. 

Figure 1: Annual Regional Precipitation                                                 Figure 2: Annual Regional Temperature

The change in physical environment gives each region in Western Europe distinctive appearances.  Two major landforms of Western Europe are: the Great European Plain and the Alpine mountain system.  The Great European Plain is Europe's largest mountain-free land form.  The Great European Plain stretches east of the Pyrenees Mountains, in southern France and northern Spain, to the Ural Mountains in Eastern Europe.  The majority of agriculture takes place in the Great European Plain.  The Alpine Region extends for almost 700 miles from the coastline of southern France into Switzerland, northern Italy, Austria, and even further into Eastern Europe.  The Alps are known for stunning scenery, glaciers, lakes, and valleys.  Some people think that the Alps have the best skiing conditions than any other mountains.  Mt. Blanc is the tallest mountain in the Alps, standing at 15,771 feet.  There are also a few major rivers that run through the Alpine Region.  These rivers consist of the Ruhr Valley in Germany, the Po River in Northern Italy, and the Rhine River, which separates Germany from France.  These rivers provide water for agriculture and industry, as well as providing transportation of individual resources.

Agriculture is the main use of land in Western Europe.   Many forms of agriculture can be found because of the many different climates found in each region.  The lowland's of Western Europe concentrate on producing grain, sugar beets and oil seeds.  Wheat grows through the moist and mild winter for the spring harvest.  Western Europe also uses the lowland's for both crops and livestock.  In the hilly regions is where more of the livestock farming takes place.  Dairy farms are also found in Western Europe because dairy production needs to match the Western levels of high dairy consumption.  Large amounts of fresh milk are produced in Western Europe, as well as the United States.  France is important when it comes to agriculture.  France is the world's second exporter of agriculture products.  France is the only country in Europe to be completely self-sufficient in basic food production.

The major manufacturing industries in Western Europe are automobile industry, aerospace industry, electronics industry and pharmaceuticals.  Germany produces about 4 million cars per year, France around 3 million, and the United Kingdom and Belgium about 1 million each year.  Aerospace industry is another major manufacturing industry in Western Europe.  Western Europe became the world's largest plane makers after the Airbus, the Ariane rockets, and the European fighter project.  These projects did require additional costs and extended time to make the sales abroad more competitive.  In 1974 the United States had the most planes made, making 4,000 planes.  However, in 1996 European companies took over with the Airbus, making 9,000 planes.   The electronic industry is an interesting industry.  "In the 1970s, U.S. corporations competed successfully to snatch the integrated circuit market from Western Europe, and in the 1980s.  The Japanese became dominant in many sectors" (Bradshaw). Even though this seems like something bad, both the United States and Japan invested in Western Europe, Germany and the U.K. "to gain access to EU markets and localized defense industry customers and to utilize good technical and scientific labor" (Bradshaw).  Japan ended up building their own factories in Western Europe; however the United States and Western Europe began to work together with resources because both the United States and Western Europe see Japan as a threat.  The last major industry is pharmaceuticals.  Germany leads Western Europe in this industry.  The sub-region produces nearly half the world total and consumes less than 30 percent.  Two-thirds of the world’s pharmaceutical exports come from Western Europe.  (Japan, a competitor to Europe, has not begun to develop this industry yet).

Demographic Analysis based on the Population Data Sheet




Population %

Under 15 / Over 65

Infant Mortality


Population % in

Areas Urban




16 / 17






17 / 17






18 / 16






14 / 19






17 / 12





19 / 14




The Netherlands


18 / 14






16 / 16






15 / 12



San Marino


15 / 16



Looking at the Population Data Sheet really sheds light into the five selected categories, the first is population growth.  The population growth for this region is very low.  Most of the countries in this region have a growth rate of 0.3 between 0.7.  Some countries such as Austria (0.0) and Germany (-0.2) have no population growth or a negative population growth.  This means the country’s population is actually declining.  Low population growth is common amongst most of the European countries.  This is primarily due to their GNI PPP values and industrialized nature.  However, in comparison to the rest of the European continent, Western Europe has a fairly high population growth.  In fact, some parts of Europe are facing negative population rates.

The numbers for the percent of the population under fifteen, and over sixty five are fairly similar amongst the Western European countries.  The population percentage of people under 15 is usually about the same as the population percentage for people above 65 in developed countries.  Since all the Western European countries are fairly well developed, it is no surprise to see the population percentage numbers shown in the chart above.

Looking at born infant mortality, this from the population data sheet shows a very small number of infants out of 1000 die in the region.  A low infant mortality rate is another trait among more developed countries where better health care and doctors are present.  Although the numbers for Western Europe are not the lowest numbers in the world, they are some of the lowest compared to the rest of Europe.

The percent of urban population is very high for the countries in Western Europe.  Most of the countries in this region are above 70% for an urban population.  This is due to the decrease focus on agriculture and the increase focus on industrialization and country development.  The exception is Liechtenstein which has an urban population of only 15%. 

The final selected category is the GNI PPP (gross national index purchasing power parity).  This is the main statistic used in determining a county’s prosperity or stage of development.  As the chart above shows, all the countries in Western Europe have a GNI PPP figure of over $30,000.  This is a very prosperous value.  The country in Western Europe with the smallest GNI PPP figure is France with $32,130.  On the other hand, Luxembourg has the highest figure in Western Europe and the world with $55,970.


The dominate country of Western Europe is Germany.  Germany is located in the northern central area of Europe.  It shares borders with Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Austria and Poland.  It has a population of 82.3 million as of 2007.  However, the population has declined since 2003 (82.6 million).  Germany is further broken up into sixteen states.  These states give the country its unique cultural experiences and political traditions.  Western and eastern Germany are still in the progress of reuniting following the demolition of the Berlin Wall which divided the country after World War II.  Six of these states were in the former East Germany which governed by the Soviet Union.  The rest of Germany was controlled by the Allied Powers.  It was in this Soviet part of Germany referred to as Saxony where the present-day cities of Leipzig and Dresden can be found.  These cities still bare some of the scars left behind by World War II.  On the western side of Germany, are the industrial cities of Bonn and Koln.  North Rhine-Westphalia is the leading industrial state which contains the Ruhr industrial complex in these cities.  Germany’s 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. 

France is the second largest Western European country in population with 61.7 million people.  Along with Germany, France is another of Western Europe’s industrial powers.  France is one of the oldest countries in the world, with its capitol in Paris.  Because of the Seine River and protective walls surrounding Paris, the culture and economy of Paris remained unchecked until World War II.  Paris dominates the entire country, especially in the north and central parts.  In the southern cities of Marseilles and Nice the influence of Paris is less noticeable but still present.  It is in these southern cities that many multi-national and industrial companies have their headquarters.  The dominate force behind the French economy is being the world leader in supplying high speed trains, aircraft, fiber optic communications, and space related technologies.  It is also a world leader in nuclear energy.  In fact, 75% of the country is now powered with nuclear power.  This in turn reduces the country’s dependence on imported oil and produced emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.  Agriculture is also a major aspect of the French economy.

The population of Belgium is 10.6 million people.  This is towards the bottom half of the Western Europe population ranks.  However, despite its small population and land area, Belgium manages to maintain one of the healthiest economies in the region.  It is a major exporter of coal, natural gas, iron, steel, and transportation equipment.  Belgium also boasts the headquarters of many European organizations especially in its capitol city of Brussels.  This city is the home of the EU’s European Commission and the headquarters of NATO.  The city also serves as the administrative center for international economic organization.  The culture is segregated between the Flemings of the north and the Walloons of the south.  The main differences between these two groups are their language and religion.  The Walloons are French speaking Protestants who live mainly in the north, while the Flemings are Dutch speaking Roman Catholics who live in the southern part of Belgium.

Also known as Holland, The Netherlands is another country that is both productive in agriculture and industry while harboring a smaller population (16.4 million).  The Netherlands has a strong agricultural program which mainly focuses on the production of dairy product, meats, vegetables, and other food products.  Since The Netherlands borders the Mediterranean Sea, its capitol, Amsterdam has become 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.  Another busy port city in The Netherlands is Rotterdam which is boasted to be the busiest port in Europe, mainly due to the oil exported from the Middle East to Europe.  Another big attraction in The Netherlands is the World Court of the United Nations which is located in a third major city, The Hague.

Luxembourg boasts the highest GNI PPP ($55, 970) figure of the region and the world.  This number has grown significantly since 2003 ($48,560).  This is mainly due to its role as being one of the banking leaders of the world.  Luxembourg has become a major financial power due to its lenient restrictions on banking in comparison with other European countries.  With a population of 500 thousand people, Luxembourg relies on guest workers to work its iron and steel industries which are its major exports.

Switzerland is located in Alpine Europe.  The terrain is made up of 60% mountains, 30% Middleland, which supports most of the inhabitants of the nation and is often subject to dense fog, and 10% Jura regions, which is a plateau made up entirely of limestone.  The climate in Switzerland is mostly wet.  Switzerland receives anywhere between 1100-1200 millimeters of annual precipitation in the Middleland area while the mountainous region receives over 2500 millimeters of annual precipitation.  The Middleland and Jura regions exhibit characteristics of a Maritime climate where much precipitation falls annually and the temperatures range from 85°F in the summer to 41° in the winter.  One of Switzerland's natural recourse's in hydroelectric mountainous terrain and high amounts of precipitation. Hydroelectric power accounts for about 60% of the country's electricity requirements.  The Grande Dixence Dam is one of the world's tallest dams, and is the tallest in Europe. Another major Swiss resource is salt which is harvest from large salt mines deep within the Earth such as the one located in the city of Bex.  Agriculture production only provides for 60% of the countries food needs.  Competition with foreign products is difficult so fixed prices are made for Swiss agriculture, this makes production costs increase.

Austria is a federal republic and is divided into nine states.  Burgenland, Carinthia (Kämten), Lower Austria (Niederösterreich), Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), Salzburg, Styria (Steiermark), Tyrol (Tirol), Vorarlberg, and Vienna (Wien).  Austria is mostly mountainous because of the Alps. Sixty-two percent of Austria is made up by the Austrian Alps, twelve percent by the Carpathians, another twelve percent is the Pannoni low-country, and the final four percent is the Vienna basin.  Austria is one of the 10 richest countries in the world and has a well-developed social market economy.  Austria is in membership to the European Union and has not had to rely on Germany like it has in the past.  Natural resources in Austria consist of oil, coal, lignite, timber, iron ore, copper, zinc, antimony, magnesite, tungsten, RP praphite, salt, and hydropower.

Liechtenstein is a very small country situated right between Austria and Switzerland.  You can compare Lichtenstein to Washington D.C. However, Lichtenstein is smaller.  There are many fields and farms that make up the Liechtenstein landscape, but also mountainous.  24% of the land is for arable land, 16% for permanent pastures, 35% for forests and woodland and 25% is used for another use.  Natural resources consist of hydroelectric potential and arable land.  Industries of Liechtenstein include electronics, metal manufacturing, dental products, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, food products, precision instruments, tourism and optical instruments. Liechtenstein is one of the best known tax havens.  The government of Liechtenstein taxes personal and business income and wealth.

Andorra is another very small country situated right between Spain and France.  One interesting fact about Andorra is that "the people of Andorra are currently listed as having the highest human life expectancies on Earth, at an average of 83.52 years at birth" (Wikipedia).  There are seven parishes in Andorra, Andorra la Vella, Canillo, Encamp, Escaldes-Engordany, La Massana, Ordino, and Saint Julià de Lòria.  Andorra does not have a lot to the country and most of the economy comes from tourism.  Only 2% of the country is able to produce agriculture, so most of the food is imported.  Tobacco is one of the only things grown in Andorra.  Exports include cigarettes, cigars and furniture.

San Marino is another very small country fully surrounded by Italy. The climate of San Marino is Mediterranean, warm summers and mild winters.  The Municipalities in which San Marino is divided up into are as follows: The City of San Marino, Acquaviva, Borgo Maggiore, Chiesanuova, Domagnano, Faetano, Fiorentino, Montegiardino, and Serravalle.  Most industries in San Marino consist of banking, electronics and ceramics.  And agriculture consists of wine and cheese.  One interesting thing about San Marino is that they have Aerial tramway transportation to Monte Titano.  Another interesting fact about San Marino is the fact that they are not a part of the European Union, but are still allowed to use the Euro.  Not only are they allowed to used the Euro, but also they are allowed to make "San Marino" designs and pictures on it.


1.) Fisher, James S.  Geography and Development: A World Regional Approach-4th ed. (1992) New York, New York.  Macmillan Publishing Company.

2.)  Clawson, David L.  World Regional Geography: A Development Approach-7th ed. (2000) Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.  Macmillan Publishing Company

3.)  de Blig, H.J. and Miller, Peter O.  Geography: Realms Regions and Concepts-10th ed. (2001) New York, New York, John Wiley and Sons Inc.

4.)  Bradshaw, Michael. World Regional Geography: The New Global Order-2nd ed. (1999) New York: McGraw-Hill Co, Inc.

5.)  Population Data Sheet.  Population Reference Bureau, 2007 and 2003. 

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. Western Europe's most densely populated country is: A. Norway; 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. Which of the following countries is currently listed as having the highest human life expancty? A. San Marino; B. Switzerland; C. Liechtenstein; D. Andorra.

7. The European Community country with the highest percentage of its workers engaged in primary activities (mainly agriculture) is: 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. In Western Europe summers are usually____ and ____, and winters are usually ____ and ___. A. dry, hot; dry, cold; B. moist, hot; dry, cold; C. moist, cool; moist, mild; D. moist, mild; moist, cool

10. The Berlin Wall was built in 1961: A. in the Middle Ages to protect the city; B. by Hitler's troops to protect their leader; C. to keep people from moving out of East Germany; D. to keep people from moving out of West Germany; E. to protect East German industry.

11. Western Europe 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 North Atlantic Drift; D. there are no high mountains in Western Europe

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. Which of the following Western European countries has the highest standard of living as defined by GNP per capita: A. Luxembourg;  B. The Netherlands;  C. France; D. Germany; E. Andorra.

14. Identify the sharpest difference in standard of living among neighboring states: A. Spain / Portugal; B. Switzerland / France; C. Austria / Italy; D. Denmark / Germany; E. Germany / Poland.

15. Which of the following countries has been most successful in sustaining a high level of industrial productivity: A. Great Britain; B. Italy; C. San Marino; D. Germany; E. Spain.

16. Which of the following countries does not border the Baltic Sea: A. Germany; B. Poland; C. Netherlands; D. Denmark; E. Lithuania.

17. 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.

18. 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;

19. Western Europe 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 North Atlantic Drift D. there are no high mountains in Western Europe

20. Of the following western European countries, which one has the largest population: A. Great Britain; B. France; C. Germany; D. Sweden; E. Italy.

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 on 11/25/03; edited and resubmitted by Christina Gawley and Drew Rivard on 4/11/2008.