Europe Evolves

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, toward the end of the 20th century, the division between communist Eastern Europe and democratic Western Europe crumbled.

Trade, business, travel, and communications across the region became easier. At the same time, new challenges emerged. Many European nations faced common problems such as large-scale immigration from the developing world, a rise in anti-foreign discrimination, and rising unemployment. The European region had to forge a new path in bringing its eastern and western sides closer together.

Germany Reunifies

In 1990, East and West Germany were reunited after more than 45 years of division. Unification brought great national pride and excitement — but it also brought challenges. East Germany’s economy and infrastructure were weak and had to be modernized. Unemployment rose in the former East Germany with the closing of communist-era factories, which were outdated and inefficient. In 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that he would withdraw tens of thousands of American troops from Germany — stationed there since World War II — prompting fears of weakening the economy.

Reunification brought social problems as well. Racist groups such as neo-Nazis, a hate-group that models itself after the Nazi party, blamed immigrants for the hard times and viciously attacked foreign workers. Most Germans condemned such actions, however. At the turn of the millennium, Germany still faced economic and social challenges but remained a strong European leader.

The European Union Takes Shape

Like NATO, the European Economic Community expanded over the years to add the nations of Eastern Europe. In the 1990s, the group became the European Union and agreed on policies to promote a freer flow of capital, labor, and goods among European nations. By the early 2000s, more than a dozen countries had joined the EU, with an increasing number of applicants coming from Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics. In 2002, the euro became the common currency for most of Western Europe. By then, EU passports had replaced national passports. The expanded EU allowed Europe to compete with economic superpowers like the United States and Japan.

Yet some Europeans have had mixed feelings about the changing economic and social makeup of the EU. Most of the EU’s Eastern European members have weaker economies than their Western European neighbors, the result of years of communist control. Older members of the EU fear that these nations will weaken the EU’s economy overall. Other Europeans worry about the changing religious demographics of the EU. Many Eastern European nations have large Muslim populations—especially Turkey, a candidate nation. Some Europeans are concerned that if the EU changes too much too quickly, it will be less stable.

NATO Evolves

With the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact dissolved. As the nations of Eastern Europe made the transition to democratic, capitalist states, most wanted to join NATO. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined in 1999, soon followed by other countries. In 2002, a NATO-Russia Council was set up. With a changing Europe, NATO has had to reassess its purpose. Many NATO policymakers have come to believe that NATO’s primary goal should be that of peacekeeper and protector of human rights. During the early 1990s, NATO sent peacekeepers to Bosnia and Kosovo. More recently, terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere have forced NATO to examine its role in the global war on terrorism.

By 2005, 25 countries had joined the EU.

Questions ~

  1. What challenges has Germany faced since reunification?
  2. Which nations are currently applying to join NATO or the EU?
  3. How does geography help explain why applicant nations applied for EU membership later than many other nations?
  4. Can you locate the following countries on a map?
  • The Netherlands
  • Turkey
  • Germany
  • Croatia