Some Cold War historians view the entire struggle, costing millions of lives, untold trillions of dollars, and conflict around the globe, as a struggle for the future of Germany. While that view may be too myopic, it is clear that Europe always remained in the forefront of strategy and emphasis. Defeat in Europe ultimately meant defeat in the Cold War.
Time: Early War
Although it is the highest-value region on the board, Europe is rarely one of the highest-scoring regions. It is unusual for either side to earn anything other than 1VP or 5VP from Europe Scoring; high stabilities and DEFCON restrictions means that it is one of the most difficult regions to break through. Only in the Late War does the situation change, thanks to a slew of powerful US events that dramatically reshape the European battlegrounds.
Despite the immense reward of Europe control, it is in practice rarely seen. The Ops investment needed is huge, and a player that singlemindedly focuses on Europe usually ends up sacrificing the rest of the world, potentially even losing to autovictory before Europe scoring is played. So if your opponent starts to make a push for Europe, and you can’t defend your position (because you’re under Chernobyl or Red Scare/Purge), give some serious thought to giving up Europe Control in exchange for the rest of the world, and aim to win the game before Europe gets scored.
Each side typically starts with “their” battlegrounds: East Germany and Poland for the USSR; West Germany and Italy for the US. The USSR is sometimes able to alter this situation early on: for instance, a successful Turn 1 Comecon Trap / Italy coup, a successful Blockade, or a well-timed Socialist Governments can all allow the USSR to score a relatively easy Domination from just East Germany and Poland.
These considerations aside, Europe Domination tends to depend on two things: who controls France, and who controls the 2-stability Mediterranean countries. US players are generally hesitant to play into France before Suez Crisis and De Gaulle Leads France are played, since they can cripple the US position. At the same time, without De Gaulle, the USSR is unable to play into France without either spending 2 Ops for 1 influence in West Germany or Italy first, or playing Decolonization into Algeria.
The 2-stability Mediterranean countries are critical, because the odd number of battlegrounds means that one side will be able to score Domination unless the other side has more countries overall. All of the other non-battlegrounds in Europe are significantly more expensive, though the US is slightly better positioned in this fight (with the aid of Canada, the UK, and Independent Reds).
At this point, Europe tends to be the most static region on the board. If Truman Doctrine has already been triggered, the USSR is sometimes willing to engage in an Ops war for France. Italy can sometimes be the target of Brush War, but with some preparatory investment in its neighbors, your opponent will generally look elsewhere with his Brush War. John Paul II Elected Pope will play a crucial role for the US, but he is primarily a springboard for the US in the Late War, rather than an agent of immediate change.
Unless the USSR has already established a dominant position in Europe, it will have a very difficult time in Europe in the Late War. Although The Reformer can provide some help, it pales in comparison to Tear Down This Wall, Chernobyl, Solidarity, and East European Unrest. With Chernobyl, the US will often sacrifice the rest of the board in pursuit of Europe control, but it must be careful of autovictory and/or Wargames! The one beacon of light for the USSR is Warsaw Pact Formed, as it can singlehandedly wipe out all of the US work in Eastern Europe. It is therefore critical for the US to trigger Warsaw Pact as early as possible, removing it from the game, so that it cannot come back as a much stronger card in the Late War.