An Overview of Western Europe

Western Europe has three areas: northern Europe, western Europe and southern Europe. Because each is slightly different—and has different issues it is facing—we will focus on each area separately.

Northern Europe
The ten nations (and three smaller island chains) of northern Europe may be small, but their contributions to global politics, economics and missions are substantial. They are far enough north that ice can impede maritime traffic. Rare and precious metals can be found in the region, as can fish, timber and arable land. Petroleum and natural gas are found in small quantities, but these will likely be depleted in the near future.

This is the least populated region in Europe, and one of the least populated in the world. It is also one of the slowest growing. At a growth of only 300,000 people per year, it will likely increase from ninety-four million in AD 2000 to only 101 million in 2025. It is heavily urbanized and over eighty-three percent of the population lives in cities. Over 180 cities have a population of one million or more. Northern Europe has the third highest concentration of elderly in the world: twenty percent of the people are 65 or older.

Although they have many rich resources, most of the nations are dependent on trade with other nearby countries for certain key items. In this they have been successful. The people of northern Europe are very wealthy (as usual, some more so than others). The region accounts for one-fifth of Europe's total Gross National Product (GNP), with economies that are a modernized mix of capitalism and extensive welfare systems.

All have benefited from globalization and low defense requirements. Wile Norway, Sweden and Finland are among the best economies in the world, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia lag behind. Iceland is pursuing hydrogen energy, and Sweden and Finland have highly advanced telecommunications companies. All have stable governments. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have ongoing thorny issues with ethnic minorities (particularly Russians). Britain and Ireland have cemented a peace agreement which is being implemented, though slowly and not without difficulty.

Problems with AIDS are isolated. Estonia has a significant but declining epidemic. Britain has a growing drug problem. Southwest Asian heroin, Latin American cocaine and synthetic drugs are all consumed here.

Christianity in Northern Europe
Northern Europe has a long, rich Christian heritage. Christianity first came to the north through missionaries to Britain and Ireland. Today, the vast majority of residents profess Christianity. Church attendance, however, is markedly low and apathy is common. Nevertheless, the churches of northern Europe have sent a substantial number of missionaries abroad, and many European mission agencies have their global headquarters in England, Sweden and Norway.

Statistics for the Ten Countries of Northern Europe


P'00  P'25 C '00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Britain 58.7 63.7 48.2 82% 50.3 79% +- +- Stable government, strong economy, large mission-sending base
Denmark 5.3 5.7 4.7 89% 4.8 84% +- +- Stable, wealthy, aging
Estonia 1.4 1.2 0.9 64% 1.0 77% -+ -+ Stable, growing economy, moderate unemployment
Finland 5.2 5.4 4.7 91% 4.8 88% +- +- Stable, wealthy, unemployment
Iceland 0.3 0.3 0.3 97% 0.3 95% +- +- Stable, wealthy
Ireland 3.8 5.1 3.7 97% 4.8 95% +- +- Peace agreement, poverty, Christian heritage, sporadic violence
Latvia 2.4 2.1 1.6 66% 1.6 76% -+ -+ Stable, ethnic tensions with Russian minority, unemployment, crime
Lithuania 3.5 3.1 3.0 87% 2.9 93% ++ -+ Stable, poverty, unemployment, openness
Norway 4.5 5.1 4.3 95% 4.7 93% +- +- Stable, oil-dependent, high quality of life, strong mission base
Sweden 8.9 9.7 6.0 68% 6.4 66% +- +- Stable, wealthy, strong mission base

Western Europe
The nations of western Europe have completely recovered from the World War II era and transitioned past the Cold War into the European decade. France (the geographically largest western European nation) and Germany (the most populous and largest economy) are the two powerhouses. With vast resources, strong infrastructure and large industries, western Europe plays a central role in the world's economic and political systems.

Western Europe is responsible for over half of Europe’s GNP, and sixteen percent of the global economy. It is not surprising that both France and Germany have been attracting tens of thousands of migrant workers. It is also not surprising these nations are attempting to modernize and globalize their economies further, while maintaining their significant social infrastructure. Although some industries have been privatized, most governments retain significant stakes in leading firms and use government regulation to reduce the gaps between rich and poor and provide for health and welfare. All of western Europe must come to grips with an aging workforce, which will present problems for medical care and pensions.

The governments are stable. Belgium faces some ethnic tensions, but overall no government in this region is likely to fall any time soon. Western Europe is a key player in the European Union.

Christianity in Western Europe
Christianity came to the region in the early centuries after Jesus Christ and, as with the rest of Europe, has had a rich history here. Nominalism is widespread; although increasing in numbers, Christianity’s share of the population is now generally in decline. Still, Christians (if in name only) form the vast majority of the population and there is freedom to worship and evangelize. Numerous mission agencies are at work alongside national evangelistic ministries. Ministries to minorities such as Muslims have been a particular focus in France and Germany.

Statistics for the Six Countries of Western Europe


P'00  P'25 C '00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Austria 8.1 8.3 6.8 84% 6.7 80% +- +- Aging, industrial, stable, high living standard
Belgium 10.3 10.6 8.9 87% 8.5 81% +- +- Ethnic tensions, high debt, migrant workers
France 59.3 63.4 41.3 70% 40.8 64% +- +- Political leadership, stable economy in transition, aging
Germany 82.3 82.0 62.2 76% 58.9 72% +- Stable, fifth largest economy, aging
Netherlands 15.9 17.2 11.5 72% 10.7 62% +- +- Stable, prosperous
Switzerland 7.2 7.4 6.1 85% 6.2 83% +- +- Stable, wealthy, immigrants, neutrality

Southern Europe
The countries of southern Europe were once great empires, but most have lost the glories of past positions and struggle to advance into the modern global economy. The individual countries are fairly small and many are landlocked. Although resources like timber, water and metals are more common, small amounts of oil and rare metals can be found. Many of these countries sit on key trade routes between Europe and Asia. Most have suffered from air and water pollution. Nearly all have experienced severe earthquakes and continue to be at risk.

Although most of the governments are stable, many are barely so. Albania and the states of the former Yugoslavia have recently endured sharp wars and are still trying to rebuild. Spain is still dealing with the Basque separatist movement. Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are older countries trying to come to grips with new economic and political realities. Crime and corruption are present everywhere. Albania is struggling with the drug trade.

Economically, all of these nations have seen better days. Southern Europe’s GNP is just slightly greater than Northern Europe’s, even though it has half as many people. Poverty and unemployment are widespread, with up to one quarter of some countries living below the poverty line. Most of the countries are, to some degree, dependent on tourism. The former members of Yugoslavia are still rebuilding after war. Aid from the European Union forms a small but significant minority of national budgets. Sporadic violence still causes many investors to be skittish.

Christianity in Southern Europe
Christianity came to the region in the first century after Jesus Christ. It has had a long and rich history here, but today many of those who profess to be Christians are highly nominal in their faith. Other religious blocs (such as Islam and Hinduism) are rapidly growing along with migrant workers. Fortunately, there is freedom to worship and evangelize. This is a key region for reaching non-Christian minorities.

Statistics for the Eleven Countries of Southern Europe


P'00  P'25 C'00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Albania 3.1 3.5 1.1 37% 1.6 47% ++ ++ Widespread poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption, drugs
Bosnia 3.8 3.7 1.4 35% 1.2 32% +- War, reconstruction, poverty, unemployment, black market
Croatia 4.5 4.3 4.1 91% 4.0 93% +- -+ War, reconstruction, growing economy, unemployment
Greece 11.0 11.2 10.2 93% 10.3 93% +- +- Turkey tensions, EU aid, immigrant workers, unemployment
Holy See 0.0 0.0 0.0 100% 0.0 100% Seat of the Catholic Church
Italy 57.7 56.3 47.4 82% 44.6 79% +- Illegal immigration, crime, corruption, unemployment, rich/poor gap
Macedonia 2.0 2.0 1.3 64% 1.3 65% +- ++ Kosovo, economy, poverty, unemployment, grey market
Portugal 10.2 10.9 9.4 92% 9.9 91% +- +- Stable but poor, unemployment, competition with Asia
Serbia 10.5 10.2 7.0 66% 7.2 71% ++ -+ Politics, ethnic tensions, poverty, unemployment, sporadic violence
Slovenia 2.0 1.9 1.9 91% 1.7 92% +- -+ Stable, moderately wealthy, few Protestants
Spain 40.7  44.2 37.5 92% 39.7  90% +- +- Growing economy, tensions over social changes, unemployment

Key to the above charts:
P’00 – Population, AD 2000
P’25 – Population, AD2025
C’00 – Christianity, AD 2000 (followed by the percentage of the overall population)
C’25 – Christianity, AD2025 projection, World Christian Database (followed by percentage of overall population)
75-00 – Growth rate. The first (+/-) indicates whether Christianity is growing or declining; the second (+/-) indicates whether it is growing faster or slower than the population (thus whether Christianity’s influence is growing or declining). (+-) means Christianity is growing, but not as fast as the population, and so is declining as a share of the country.
00-25 – Growth rate projected for AD2000-2025
Issues – A brief encapsulation of the issues affecting the growth of Christianity in the nation

Justin Long manages and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at [email protected].