What Countries Belong to Europe?

Oct 17, 2018

St. Basil's Pokrovsky Cathedral on the red square in Moscow, Russia
St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow, Russia

The idea of Europe is at once easy to comprehend and difficult to define. There is widespread agreement on identifying the heart of Europe, which generally includes some combination of Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland.

Defining the rest of Europe, however, is not always so clear. If European countries are those that have liberal social institutions and high incomes, then there is a strong division on the continent between the east and the west. If European countries are those that are part of the EU, then Norway and Switzerland are out. In reality, the borders of Europe are not fixed, but rather change with the times and are influenced by the political winds. These are some countries whose European status is not so clear.


Russia is the largest country in the world by area, so placing it into a single region is difficult. On the one hand, it borders countries widely recognized as European in the west like Norway and Finland. The eastern extremes, however, border the decidedly non-European countries of North Korea, China, and Mongolia. Most people consider the territory west of the Ural Mountains, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, to be European, while the large eastern territory is part of Asia.


Turkey borders two EU countries and has strong historic ties to Europe. Turkey is the location of many important sites from early Christianity, long considered one of Europe’s defining features, including the seat of the Orthodox Church. Istanbul and Izmir have a decidedly European character, Turkey has even been in accession talks with the European Union. The likelihood of joining, however, seems very low.

The Caucasus Region

Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan form the Caucasus Region between Iran and Russia. All three countries were part of the Soviet Union for much of the 20th century, but since independence have tried to go in a new direction. In sports and many cultural events, they are most often associated with Europe. Geographically, however, they are isolated and distant from Europe’s traditional heartland.


Apart from Russia, Kazakhstan is the easternmost country that can marginally be considered part of Europe. In sports, the country tends to compete with other European countries. Geographically, it is far enough east to share a border with China and is not far from Mongolia. The country has long been a trading route between Europe and Asia, which has given Kazakhstan both European and Asian characteristics.


With strong influences from both Greece and Turkey, Cyprus occupies a position between Europe and Asia. Geographically, Cyprus is closer to Syria, Lebanon, and Israel than it is to Greece. A large proportion of the population, however, shares linguistic, religious, and cultural similarities with Greece. Cyprus is a member of the European Union, but also has a sizable Turkish population with strong cultural and political ties to mainland Turkey.