A Visual Guide to Europe’s Member States
Who are Europe’s Member States?
With Ukraine’s recent bid to join the European Union (EU), the current status of Europe’s member states is back in the fray.
The European member states are countries mainly in Europe, and three outside, that are part of one or more of the four major treaty groups, namely the European Union (EU), NATO, Schengen, and eurozone.
Each of these institutions governs a different aspect of the region’s infrastructure.
Let’s take a look at each of them.
The European Union (EU) is a unique economic and political union between 27 European countries.
First created as the European Economic Community in the aftermath of WW2, the organization’s main focus was to foster economic cooperation. The idea was simple: countries that trade with one another and become economically interdependent are more likely to avoid conflict.
Beginning with six countries in 1958, the European Economic Community has since added 21 more countries (the UK left the EU in 2020), with a primary focus on single or internal markets.
Here are the countries that comprise the European Union:
|Number||Countries||Year of Accession|
|6||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||2004|
What began as a purely economic union has evolved into an organization pioneering the development of many different policy areas. A name change from the European Economic Community to the European Union in 1993 reflected this.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exists for the sole purpose of facilitating a political and military alliance between its 30 member countries.
Established in 1949 in response to post-WW2 Soviet aggression, NATO exists for the collective defense and security of the group. Members share few laws and regulations. An attack on one constitutes an attack on all, and member states are obligated to defend one another.
The chronological timeline of NATO’s expansion since its establishment paints a fascinating picture.
As of 2021, NATO officially recognizes three aspiring NATO members: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine. Ukraine has voiced its desire to join NATO since 2014 but hasn’t met its political and military criteria.
The eurozone is a geographic and economic region that consists of countries that have adopted the euro as their national currency. Approximately 340 million people live in the euro area.
Today, the eurozone consists of 19 countries of the European Union. Here they are:
|Number||Countries||Year of Adoption|
European Union nations that decide to participate in the eurozone must meet a multitude of financial requirements. They include price stability, sound public finances, the durability of convergence, and exchange rate stability.
Not all countries have to adopt the currency, though. For example, Denmark has a special opt-out clause to use its own currency and maintain its financial independence.
The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries that agreed to create common entry and exit requirements to remove the need for internal borders. This allows travellers up to 90 days of visa-free travel to any of the countries in the Schengen Area.
The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting as tourists, exchange students, or for business purposes.
Here’s a list of the 26 countries that are a part of the Schengen Area:
|Number||Countries||Year of Implementation|
|3||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||2007|
Monaco, Vatican City, and San Marino also have open borders with Schengen area countries even though they aren’t part of the treaty.
Mapped: What Did the World Look Like in the Last Ice Age?
A map of the Earth 20,000 years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, when colder temperatures transformed the planet we know so well.
What Did the World Look Like in the Last Ice Age?
What did the world look like during the last ice age? Was it all endless glaciers and frozen ice? The answer is a partial yes—with some interesting caveats.
The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), colloquially called the last ice age, was a period in Earth’s history that occurred roughly 26,000 to 19,000 years ago.
This map by cartographer Perrin Remonté offers a snapshot of the Earth from that time, using data of past sea levels and glaciers from research published in 2009, 2014, and 2021, alongside modern-day topographical data.
Let’s dive into the differences between the two Earths below.
The Last Ice Age: Low Seas, Exposed Landmasses
During an ice age, sea levels fall as ocean water that evaporates is stored on land on a large scale (ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers) instead of returning to the ocean.
|Earth's Ice Cover||20,000 Years Ago||Today|
At the time of the LGM, the climate was cold and dry with temperatures that were 6 °C (11 °F) lower on average. Water levels in the ocean were more than 400 feet below what they are now, exposing large areas of the continental shelf.
In the map above, these areas are represented as the gray, dry land most noticeable in a few big patches in Southeast Asia and between Russia and Alaska. Here are a few examples of regions of dry land from 20,000 years ago that are now under water:
- A “lost continent” called Sundaland, a southeastern extension of Asia which forms the island regions of Indonesia today. Some scholars see a connection with this location and the mythical site of Atlantis, though there are many other theories.
- The Bering land bridge, now a strait, connecting Asia and North America. It is central to the theory explaining how ancient humans crossed between the two continents.
- Another land bridge connected the island of Great Britain with the rest of continental Europe. The island of Ireland is in turn connected to Great Britain by a giant ice sheet.
- In Japan, the low water level made the Sea of Japan a lake, and a land bridge connected the region to the Asian mainland. The Yellow Sea—famous as a modern-day fishing location—was completely dry.
The cold temperatures also caused the polar parts of continents to be covered by massive ice sheets, with glaciers forming in mountainous areas.
Flora and Fauna in the Last Ice Age
The dry climate during the last ice age brought about the expansion of deserts and the disappearance of rivers, but some areas saw increased precipitation from falling temperatures.
Most of Canada and Northern Europe was covered with large ice sheets. The U.S. was a mix of ice sheets, alpine deserts, snow forests, semi-arid scrubland and temperate grasslands. Areas that are deserts today—like the Mojave—were filled with lakes. The Great Salt Lake in Utah is a remnant from this time.
Africa had a mix of grasslands in its southern half and deserts in the north—the Sahara Desert existed then as well—and Asia was a mix of tropical deserts in the west, alpine deserts in China, and grasslands in the Indian subcontinent.
Several large animals like the woolly mammoth, the mastodon, the giant beaver, and the saber-toothed tiger roamed the world in extremely harsh conditions, but sadly all are extinct today.
However, not all megafauna from the LGM disappeared forever; many species are still alive, including the Bactrian camel, the tapir, the musk ox, and the white rhinoceros—though the latter is now an endangered species.
Will There Be Another Ice Age?
In a technical sense, we’re still in an “ice age” called the Quaternary Glaciation, which began about 2.6 million years ago. That’s because a permanent ice sheet has existed for the entire time, the Antarctic, which makes geologists call this entire period an ice age.
We are currently in a relatively warmer part of that ice age, described as an interglacial period, which began 11,700 years ago. This geological epoch is known as the Holocene.
Over billions of years, the Earth has experienced numerous glacial and interglacial periods and has had five major ice ages:
|Major Ice Ages||Name||Time Period (Years Ago)|
|1||Huronian Glaciation||2.4 billion - 2.1 billion|
|2||Cryogenian Glaciation||720 million - 635 million|
|3||Andean-Saharan Glaciation||450 million - 420 million|
|4||Late Paleozoic ice age||335 million - 260 million|
|5||Quaternary Glaciation||2.6 million - present|
It is predicted that temperatures will fall again in a few thousand years, leading to expansion of ice sheets. However there are a dizzying array of factors that are still not understood well enough to say comprehensively what causes (or ends) ice ages.
A popular explanation says the degree of the Earth’s axial tilt, its wobble, and its orbital shape, are the main factors heralding the start and end of this phenomenon.
The variations in all three lead to a change in how much prolonged sunlight parts of the world receive, which in turn can cause the creation or melting of ice sheets. But these take thousands of years to coincide and cause a significant change in climate.
Furthermore, current industrial activities have warmed the climate considerably and may in fact delay the next ice age by 50,000-100,000 years.
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