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Europe has undergone huge changes over the last 50 years. The end of the Cold War, the expansion of the European Union from the original six to the current 28, and the introduction of a single currency have all helped turn the region into a global economic powerhouse rich in culture and diversity.

After the Conservative party's victory in the U.K. general election, and with several other European votes scheduled over the next few years, CNBC takes a look at some of Europe's most flamboyant, iconic and influential political leaders – past and present – to assess their impact on Europe and the world.

Do you agree with our choice? Nominate the leader who you think helped shape Europe on Twitter by using the hashtag #cnbcleaders.

Gerard Malie | AFP | Getty Images