News Timeline: Europe 2015


January 1 – Lithuania / European Union
Lithuania adopts the euro as its currency, becoming the 19th member of the eurozone.

January 7 – France
Radical Islamist gunmen storm Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine’s office in France’s capital, Paris, and kill 12 people, including the chief editor Stephane Charbonnier. The killings are in retaliation for Charlie Hebdo publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The gunmen escape, killing a policeman outside the building. After two days of a massive search, the French police surround the two gunmen and kill them. In the meantime, a third gunman storms a kosher supermarket in the east of Paris and takes several hostages. Police surrounds the store and kill the gunman, but not before he takes lives of four hostages. The terrorists kill a total of 17 people in this Paris attack.

January 25 – Greece
Syriza, a left-wing party led by Alexis Tsipras, wins parliamentary elections in Greece, with 36 percent of the vote, defeating the New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras, the outgoing prime minister, by eight percentage points. In its campaign, Syriza has promised to abandon the austerity measures and renegotiate the $270 billion bailout with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

February 11 – Italy / European Union
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says that about 300 African migrants may have perished after leaving the coast of Libya in four boats trying to reach Europe. About 82 survivors are rescued by Italian coastguards and brought to Italy’s Lampedusa Island, located between Tunisia and Malta on the Mediterranean Sea. At least 218,000 people, including migrants and refugees, crossed the Mediterranean by irregular routes last year, but about 3,500 died. In 2014, the European Union adopted the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, with a budget of more than $3 billion for the next seven years, which partially will boost domestic budgets of member states to help improve asylum systems.

February 12 – Ukraine
Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists in the east sign a new ceasefire agreement in the Belarussian capital, Minsk after talks attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Holland. Some of the main points of the deal are an immediate bilateral ceasefire and a withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides.

February 24 – Greece / European Union
Greece and eurozone finance ministers reach a deal that gives Greece a four-month extension of its financial bailout with eurozone countries. In return, Greece agrees to drop some anti-austerity measures and to undertake a program of reforms approved by the eurozone. They include combating tax evasion, battling corruption, and targeting fuel and tobacco smuggling. New funds will be released only after the deal is implemented by Greece.

February 27 – Russia
Boris Nemtsov, one of the brightest and most charismatic leaders of the Russian political opposition, is assassinated in the center of Moscow. He is shot in the back several times from a passing car. Nemtsov supporters blame the Russian government and say the killing was politically motivated.  He was a harsh critic of Vladimir Putin regime and its support of Ukraine’s separatist rebels.

March 11 – Ukraine
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approves a $17.5 billion rescue package for Ukraine to help stabilize its economy. Last month, the European Union agreed to provide $2 billion in loans to Ukraine, while the United States has pledged $2 billion in loan guarantees. As a prerequisite for the loan, the Ukrainian parliament approved a reform package that modifies tax and energy laws, as well as introduces changes to the government’s budget. Due to the military operations in the east, deteriorating relations with Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner, and plunging foreign investment, inflation in Ukraine skyrocketed and its currency, the hryvnia, lost 80 percent of its value since last April.

March 18 – Russia / Georgia
Russia signs a treaty on “alliance and integration” with Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. According to the agreement, Russia will incorporate the South Ossetian military into its armed forces, integrate South Ossetian customs service into that of Russia’s, and pay state worker salaries in South Ossetia. The treaty comes after Russia signed a similar treaty with Georgia’s another breakaway region of Abkhazia in November last year. Georgia condemns both treaties, describing them as a step towards annexation of its occupied territories.

March 21 – Turkey
The jailed leader of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, renews his call for his fighters to put an end to their armed insurgency.  The Turkish Kurds have fought for their independent homeland in the country’s southeast for 30 years. A ceasefire that Ocalan called in 2013 still holds and brings hopes for a long-term agreement.

April 14 – Turkey / Armenia / Vatican City
Turkey criticizes Pope Francis for using the word “genocide” when describing the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 and recalls its ambassador from the Vatican in protest.  The Pope made a speech ahead of the 100th anniversary of the deportations and killings, which remains a highly sensitive issue. Turkey admits that these atrocities were committed, but stops short of calling them a genocide. Also, while historians estimate that over a million Armenians perished, Turkey estimates the total at 300,000.

April 19 – European Union / Italy / Greece
About 800 migrants drown after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. The migrants left the coast of Libya and headed towards Italy. According to the International Organization of Migrations (OIM), most of these migrants come from Sub-Saharan Africa, with a small percentage coming from North Africa and Middle East (countries such as Eritrea and Syria). The OIM also estimates that just this year more than 21,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast (with more than 1,700 dying during these journeys), hoping to be resettled in one of the European Union’s countries. With its resources to deal with such overwhelming number of migrants under immense stress, Italy asks the European Union for help.

May 4 – France
France’s far-right National Front (FN) party suspends its honorary president and the founder of the party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in an attempt to distance itself from his inflammatory racists and anti-Semitic remarks. Since his daughter Marine Le Pen took over the leadership of FN in 2011, she has focused her efforts to steer the party away from its far-right racist roots. Some controversial members have been expelled.

May 6 – France
The French parliament approves a controversial surveillance law in response to the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this year. The law creates the National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques that will oversee the intelligence services. It also authorizes new methods of surveillance such as collecting mass internet and phone data. The civil rights groups, the press and Internet providers criticize the law as a massive invasion of privacy.

May 7 – United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom’s parliamentary elections, the Conservative Party (Tories) wins an absolute majority with 331 seats in the House of Commons. At the same time, its coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, suffer its worst result since 1970, winning only eight seats out of their previous 57 seats. The Labour Party wins the second largest number of seats, 232. The Scottish National Party (SNP) that support and campaigns for Scotland’s independence becomes the third largest party in the Commons by winning 56 out of 59 assigned for Scotland. The Conservatives with David Cameron as its leader will form a new government.

May 13 – European Union
In response to the recent plight of tens of thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe, the European Union (EU) issues “The European Agenda on Migration,” which outlines a EU’s response to the crisis and sets out policies to manage migration. It includes immediate action, such as helping Member States with the sudden influx of migrants (especially Italy and Greece) and working on the Mediterranean to dismantle traffickers’ networks and fight human trafficking. The long term policies include making human trafficking a high risk operation for smugglers, better border management, a strong common asylum policy, and a new policy on legal migration. (May 27):  The European Commission adopts a controversial recommendation asking to resettle future migrants in a more equitable way among the member states over the next 2 years. The number of migrants for each country would be based on a distribution key, such as GDP, size of population, unemployment rate and past numbers of resettled refugees. The participating countries will receive financial support. This plan is for asylum seekers only, and does not include economic migrants.

May 22 – Ireland
Ireland becomes the first country in the world to organize a same-sex marriage referendum. This popular vote on Marriage Equality passes by a large majority and makes same-sex marriage legal and equal within law. In this predominantly Catholic country, the vote diminishes the standing of the Catholic Church and is seen as a great victory for equality.

May 24 – Poland
Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski loses in a presidential election to Andrzej Duda, a relatively little-known politician from the opposition conservative Law and Justice Party. The analysts say the election was a vote for change. Komorowski’s ruling Civic Platform party has been in power for the last eight years and the people are dissatisfied with the high youth unemployment and living standards that are still lower that in many other western European countries.

June 1 – Georgia / Ukraine
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili renounces his Georgian citizenship and accepts Ukrainian citizenship as he becomes Governor of Odessa region in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed him governor of this important strategic region, saying he is the person capable of implementing needed radical reforms and fight deeply-rooted corruption and organized crime. By renouncing his citizenship, Saakashvili also wants to avoid an arrest in his native Georgia where he is wanted for abuse of power during his presidency. Saakashvili denies the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

June 7 – Turkey
Turkey’s governing AK party loses its majority in the parliamentary elections for the first time in 13 years, getting only 41 percent of the vote. At the same time, Turkey’s People’s Democracy Party (HDP) wins 10 percent threshold to enter the parliament. The HDP party is pro-Kurdish, but it also appeals to regular Turks, such as liberals, environmentalists, and even religious voters. AK party will now try to form a coalition government. If it fails, it will rule as a weak minority government and there will be early elections. The AK’s loss of a parliamentary majority also means that a planned referendum to grant President Recep Erdogan more powers will most probably not take place.

June 18 – Vatican City
Pope Francis releases a Papal Encyclical on the Environment and Climate Change, in which he acknowledges global warming, blames human activity and human selfishness on the climate change, and calls for all people to protect the Earth. Environmentalists and many academics welcome Pope’s engagement, saying his input will help their cause. The critics and sceptics of the climate change, however, question Pope’s credibility on the issue.

July 8 – Russia / Bosnia-Herzegovina / Serbia
Russia vetoes a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that described the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. Ten members of the Council voted in favor, with China, Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela abstaining. Republika Srpska, one of the federal states within Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia lobbied for the veto. Russia is considered an ally of Serbia. The Srebrenica massacre took place in July 1995 during the Bosnian War. In Srebrenica and many towns and villages around it, units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska under the command of General Ratko Mladić and a paramilitary unit from Serbia killed more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks, mainly men and boys.

July 13 – Greece / European Union
After intense negotiations, Greece and the members of the Eurozone reach an agreement on Greece’s third bailout according to which Greece will receive financing of $94 billion over the next three years. Greece’s left-wing Syriza government that was elected in January on a promise to end austerity measures has not managed to convince the Eurozone to have the Greek debt reduced, nor avoid some tough reforms. Greece’s negotiators agree to implement a string of austerity measures, such as pension reform, raising tax collection, privatization, reform of the banking and the judiciary systems. To conclude the agreement, parliaments in Greece and several other Eurozone countries have to approve it. The deal ends months of speculations that Greece might have to exit the Eurozone. (July 23): After heated debates, the Greek parliament approves the bailout conditions. Thousands of people gather outside the parliament to protest the austerity measures.

July 14 – Europe
After 20 months of negotiations, world powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany) reach a long-term agreement with Iran that limits its nuclear activity in return for lifting economic sanctions by the international community. The deal allows the United Nations (UN) nuclear inspectors monitor and inspect Iranian nuclear sites and puts other checks in place to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In exchange, Iran will regain its frozen assets oversees and will resume selling its oil on international markets. In the U.S the agreement has to be approved by Congress, where it faces strong opposition from the Republican legislatures.

July 29 – Russia / Ukraine
Russia uses its veto as a member of the Security Council at the United Nations to block a draft resolution that calls for setting up an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for downing the Malaysian plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. Russia is the only country in the 15-member UN Security Council to do so. It is believed and there is evidence that the plane was hit by a missile fired by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. The anti-aircraft missile was produced and supplied by Russia.

August 21 – France
A 25-year-old Ayoub El Kahzzani, a Moroccan who lives in France, opens fire in a passenger train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels in what it is believed is an Islamist terrorist attack. However, he only injures one person while being subdued by passengers. Several people who subdued the attacker, including three Americans, are awarded France’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honor.

August 21 – Europe
Macedonia declares a state of emergency as it struggles to cope with an influx of migrants who rush through its borders from Turkey and Greece. It is estimated that about 44,000 migrants went through Macedonia just in the past two months. Greece itself has seen more than 160,000 migrants landing on its shores since January. Most of the migrants are from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, taking great risks and putting their lives in the hands of human traffickers to escape war and persecution. The migrants are travelling through Macedonia and Serbia, trying to reach Hungary, which is part of the European Union and an open border member. From there, most of them plan to reach northern and western Europe, and settle in countries such as Germany, Norway, Sweden, or the United Kingdom.

September 1 – European Union
Hungary builds a controversial 110-mile-long razor-wire wall on its southern border with Serbia. It’s designed to keep migrants out of its territory who arrive from Turkey and Greece. Bulgaria has also built a fence on its border with Turkey. Under the Schengen Agreement the first country where migrants arrive is supposed to process the application process for asylum (Serbia is not part of this agreement). This has put an immense stress on Greece, Italy, and Hungary as thousands of refugees and other migrants arrive there daily creating the biggest migration crisis since WWII. Alongside the legitimate asylum seekers mostly from Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, there are many economic migrants, mostly from Kosovo, escaping dire poverty. Between January and August 2015, there were about 350,000 migrants at EU’s borders. (September 22): The European Union approves the controversial quota plan to relocate 120,000 migrants from Italy, Greece, and Hungary to other EU member-states. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary vote against the motion. The number of the quota number is set according to size of a country’s economy and population. Thus, the largest number of these resettled migrants will go to Germany, France, and Spain.

September 9 – United Kingdom
Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 63 years as a monarch of the United Kingdom. She has surpassed the reign of Queen Victoria, her great-great grandmother, which makes her the longest reigning UK monarch in history.

September 22 – Vatican City
Pope Francis arrives in the United States for an official visit, where he is greeted by millions of American Catholics. He meets with President Barack Obama and is the first Pope to address a joint meeting of Congress. In his speech to Congress, the Pope speaks against death penalty and calls for action to stop environmental deterioration caused by human activity. He also encourages the U.S. to embrace migrants as the world faces the worst refugee crisis since WWII.

September 30 – Russia
Russia begins air strikes in Syria claiming it targets the militants of the Islamic State (IS). However, the Syrian opposition says that Russian strikes target mostly groups that fight IS and Bashir Assad’s government troops. The Syrian government is Russia’s ally.

October 10 – Turkey
Two suicide bombings kill 97 people in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, during a crowded rally protesting the government’s violence against the Kurds. The government blames the Islamic State (IS) for the bombings. However, Kurdish activists accuse the Turkish government for failing to protect the rally, and even involvement over the attack.

October 12 – Belarus
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko wins a fifth term as president in an election in which veteran opposition candidates were barred from running. Three candidates that ran against Lukashenko are considered to have been put up by the regime to give appearance of competition. They received less than 5 percent of the vote. International elections observers and other human rights groups criticize the election as falling short of democratic norms with significant problems in counting votes and transparency.

October 13 – Ukraine / Russia / Netherlands
In an investigation report on the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that crashed over Ukraine in 2014, the Dutch Safety Board concludes that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile. The report does not say who fired the missile. Russia blames Ukraine for the disaster, while Ukraine and the West say Russia has equipped the rebels in eastern Ukraine with weapons.

October 15 – Poland / Estonia / Latvia / Lithuania

Poland signs a groundbreaking deal to build the EU’s first gas pipeline with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which will reduce their reliance on natural gas from Russia. The $636 million Gas Interconnection Poland-Lithuania (GIPL) will be 300-miles long and will have an initial capacity of 2.4 billion cubic meters.

October 19 – Switzerland
The right-wing, anti-immigration, and anti-EU Swiss People’s Party (SVP) wins Switzerland’s parliamentary elections, gathering over 29 percent of the vote and increasing its number of seats in the lower house of the parliament to 65 out of 200. Another center-right party, FDP The Liberals, comes third. In this situation, a coalition of SVP with FDP and a few minor right-wing parties will allow them to form a majority in parliament.

October 20 – Russia
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Russia on his first foreign trip since the country’s civil war erupted in 2011. He meets with President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s ally, who recently initiated Russia’s air bombings on IS and other rebels who oppose Assad’s government. By receiving Assad, Putin shows his country’s continued support for him.

October 25 – Poland
Poland’s conservative opposition Law and Justice party (PiS) wins a decisive victory in the country’s parliamentary elections. It gathers 38 percent of the vote, which gives it a majority in the lower house with 235 out of 460 seats. The party wins enough votes to govern alone without a coalition. The PiS’s win ends the eight-year rule of the centrist Civic Platform, which received 24 percent of the vote. The Eurosceptic Law and Justice party has strong support in poorer, rural areas of Poland.

October 29 – European Union
The European Parliament selects Saudi Arabia’s jailed blogger Raif Badawi as a recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom and Thought for his fight for human rights and democracy. The parliament’s president also encourages Saudi Arabia to free Badawi, who as an author of the website “Free Saudi Liberals” was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

October 29 – Moldova
After a vote of no confidence, the Moldovan parliament dissolves the government of Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet after only three months in power. The vote was prompted by months of widespread popular demonstrations protesting government corruption and the disappearance of more than $1 billion from banks.

October 30 – European Union / Belarus
The European Union (EU) and the United States temporarily suspend most of their sanctions against Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko has freed six of his political opponents and made overtures to the West to improve relations between both sides. The lifted sanctions include the asset freeze and travel ban applying to Lukashenko and 170 individuals from his circles. An arms embargo remains in force. At the same time, the EU and the U.S. encourage Belarus to improve its human rights record and democracy. The sanctions will be evaluated again in four months.

November 1 – Turkey
Turkey’s general election results in a win of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), which regains a parliamentary majority after having had lost it five months earlier in the June 2015 general election. The snap election was called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August after the June election resulted in a hung parliament and inability to form a coalition. Despite winning a majority, AKA comes short of 14 seats to be able to call a referendum on changing the constitution and boosting the President’s powers.

November 13 – France
Several gunmen and suicide bombers strike various Paris locations in a coordinated terrorist attacks, killing 130 people and injuring 368 in mass shootings. Islamic State (IS) group claims responsibility for the attacks. The militants strike Stade de France, the Bataclan music venue, as well as several cafes and restaurants. Seven attackers are killed, while two are on the run. The attacks were planned in Syria and organized in Belgium. Police are searching for accomplices in Belgium and France. (November 15): In a response to the Paris attacks, France launches the biggest airstrike operation on IS targets in Syria. (November 27): After a week of talks with leaders of several countries, French President Francois Hollande does not succeed in forming a coalition in the fight against IS, but wins promises of increased political and military cooperation. The United States promises greater sharing of intelligence; Germany offers its infrastructure to refuel airplanes and promises to share its intelligence gathering on IS; the United Kingdom promises to join the air strikes after the approval of its parliament; Cyprus and the UK promise to open air bases at the Mediterranean for the French military to strike the IS.

November 24 – Turkey / Russia
Turkey shoots down a Russian warplane in the Syrian-Turkey border area, which was on the bombing mission in Syria. Turkey claims the plane violated Turkish airspace, flying over Turkish territory despite 10 warnings to change course. Russia denies the claim and says that the plane never entered Turkish airspace. Turkey says it has previously warned Russia about violations of its airspace, as well as strikes against Syrian Turkic minority that lives in Syria along the Turkish border. Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the attack as “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists.” Russia also imposes economic sanctions on Turkey.

November 29 – European Union / Turkey
The European Union and Turkey come to an agreement on the migrant crisis. According to the deal, Turkey will restrict the migrant flow into Europe and in return it will receive $3.17 billion that will support the refugees in Turkey. The EU also agrees to include Turkey in the Schengen Area, the visa-free zone within Europe by October 2016 and restart stalled EU accession talks with Turkey.

November 24 – Turkey / Russia
Turkey shoots down a Russian warplane in the Syrian-Turkey border area, which was on the bombing mission in Syria. Turkey claims the plane violated Turkish airspace, flying over Turkish territory despite 10 warnings to change course. Russia denies the claim and says that the plane never entered Turkish airspace. Turkey says it has previously warned Russia about violations of its airspace, as well as strikes against Syrian Turkic minority that lives in Syria along the Turkish border. Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the attack as “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists.” Russia also imposes economic sanctions on Turkey.

December 2 – Montenegro / Russia
Montenegro becomes the 29th member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Montenegro’s membership in NATO shows a dramatic transformation of this small country, which 16 years ago, during the Kosovo war, was bombed by the same organization it now joins. Montenegro hopes that the presence of NATO in its region will solidify its recent stability. Russia, on the other hand, protests NATO’s expansion eastward and threatens with retaliation.

December 4 – United Kingdom / Germany
The United Kingdom begins military air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria immediately after the UK’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the country’s military action against IS. The first six different targets include the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria that are under the IS control. Germany’s parliament also votes to send military support for the US-led coalition in Syria.