*I was asked to briefly respond to the question. Here is my take.
Europe is a cultural concept superimposed onto a continent. It is tricky to isolate the particular elements that constitute European culture, but it is obvious that a shared religious heritage, tradition of science and empiricism, industry, and rich exchange of goods and ideas have all shaped European society and culture. The cultural elements of Europe are often subsumed by the legalistic approaches so frequently adopted by the E.U. and its constituent states, a technocratic, almost “end of history” style of policymaking. However, the existence of deeper cultural roots is still apparent. For example, despite the seeming embrace of institutional liberalism and democracy by European countries, issues of identity are becoming increasingly salient as populists and immigrants clash along ethnic and religious lines.
Of course, each European state is unique and idiosyncratic, and certain countries within Europe have not always been considered “European.” For example, Eastern European countries, which reside in a borderland and have frequently faced invasion and occupation, have had to deal with this question and repeatedly justify their European credentials. Even today, they are often viewed as something else on account of their association with communism. There are also ambiguous cases, such as Russia and Turkey, that have strong connections with Europe but are still quite distinct politically and culturally. Nonetheless, the countries of Europe share many commonalities.
For one, most of Europe is linked through the E.U. And while not every country on the continent is a member of the Union, those that aren’t still maintain ties with the institution through close diplomatic relations and Association Agreements. Moreover, every European country is democratic, though not necessarily liberal. The connections go much deeper, though. Europe in previous centuries largely defined itself by its modern science and advanced position within the world; Europe was at the pinnacle of its power despite this power not being uniformly shared across the continent. Today, Europe seems to see itself in a similar way, albeit for different reasons: European states frequently want to be seen as paragons of a liberal and technocratic society that is above power politics. From their lauding of European integration to their moralizing about U.S. foreign policy, many in Europe seem to view their continent as having finally matured and transcended its past failings.
Europe is, because of what it represents, an aspiration for many. The paradox is that while many peripheral countries want to embrace “Europe” and the democratic and economic principles for which it stands, many Western European countries are stagnating. Their self-assuredness has made them complacent and naïve. Whether European countries will continue to ride on the coattails of their previous successes or work to innovate and integrate new ideas and people is still uncertain. What is clear is that the idea of Europe and the cultural framework it has created will be a major influence regionally and globally for the foreseeable future.