Renaissance Humanism, exploration, art, and science led to the modern era.From the Age of Discovery onwards, Europe played a predominant role in global affairs.During the Cold War, Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east, until the revolutions of 1989 and fall of the Berlin Wall.
It includes all states except for Belarus, Kazakhstan and Vatican City.
Further European integration by some states led to the formation of the European Union, a separate political entity that lies between a confederation and a federation.
The prevalent definition of Europe as a geographical term has been in use since the mid-19th century.
Europe is taken to be bounded by large bodies of water to the north, west and south; Europe's limits to the far east are usually taken to be the Urals, the Ural River, and the Caspian Sea; to the southeast, including the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
Cyprus is closest to Anatolia (or Asia Minor), but is usually considered part of Europe both culturally and politically and is a member state of the EU.
Malta was considered an island of North Africa for centuries.
Yet the non-oceanic borders of Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are arbitrary and amount to a historical and social construct.
The primarily physiographic term "continent" as applied to Europe also incorporates cultural and political elements whose discontinuities are not always reflected by the continent's current overland boundary with Asia.
Islands are generally grouped with the nearest continental landmass, hence Iceland is generally considered to be part of Europe, while the nearby island of Greenland is usually assigned to North America.
Nevertheless, there are some exceptions based on sociopolitical and cultural differences.
The EU originated in Western Europe but has been expanding eastward since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.