European nations in the 18th century were the most powerful in the world, spreading their culture through exploration, trade and warfare.
In 1750 the dominant power-blocks in Northern Europe are Great Britain, the Netherlands and France, all grown wealthy through ruthless trade and expansion, surpassing the still mighty nations of Spain and Portugal. These five nations rule the seas, control considerable parts of the world outside Europe and thrive on the imported wealth. The northern European states adopted a model of commercial trade companies to drive their growth, such as the East India Company or the Dutch VOC, these companies have grown immensely powerful and can sometimes be at odds with the interests of the very nation they belong to.
Other powerful European nations, such as Prussia, the Habsburg Monarchy, Russia or Poland-Lithuania were traditionally land-focussed, they have a modest presence at sea. This is likely to change, as they certainly have the power to develop great naval forces and compete for world domination.
Europe is awash with a variety of smaller nations, such as trading nations of Genoa and Venice, an assortment of smaller Mediterranean monarchies, up to the Scandinavian nations in the north. All these nations are well developed and often have great strategic positions. If they play their cards right, enter into clever alliances and exploit the weaknesses of the greater powers, they might come out as surprising winners on the European continent.
Europe has many external threats. The powerful Ottoman Empire in the east of the Mediterranean presents a constant pressure and the rogue nations from North Africa are a destabilizing factor, harassing European trade and attracting piracy. But the greatest concern is the ability of the most powerful European nations to hold on to their overseas territories. Europe consists of 31 nations that control nearly 287 million citizens, but more than half of those citizens are from overseas territories.