News Timeline: Europe 2004


January 9: Turkey/European Union

Turkey signs a European Convention protocol abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances, including during wars. The protocol is a part of human-rights reforms required by the European Union before a country can become a member of the EU.

January 23: Portugal

Portuguese public-sector employees go on strike over a wage freeze introduced last year. Prime Minister José Manuel Durao Barroso says the government has to make savings to avoid breaching the eurozone debt limits.

January 23: European Union

The European Union bans all imports of Thai poultry products after Thailand announces that the bird flu has spread to humans. The EU is Thailand’s biggest importer of poultry meat after Japan.

February 2: Latvia

Latvia’s parliament approves a controversial amendment to the country’s education law requiring 60 percent of the subjects in the minority schools to be taught in the Latvian language beginning September 1. About 5,000 people, many of them ethnic Russians, protest the new law outside the parliament building. The reform touches a sensitive issue affecting relations with Russia, as Latvia’s 2.3 million inhabitants are ethnic Russians.

February 18: Spain

The militant Basque separatist group ETA declares a cease-fire in the Spanish region of Catalonia to strengthen relations between the Basque and the Catalan people. ETA launched multiple attacks against Spanish and French interests in Catalonia in the 1980s. The Spanish government criticizes the Republican Left of Catalonia Party for negotiating with the group.

February 19: European Union

The European Union extends sanctions against Zimbabwe for a third year. The sanctions include a freeze on the financial assets of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, and his associates, an arms embargo, and a ban on travel to the 25 current and accessing EU countries.

February 21: Albania

Twenty thousand people protest on the streets of the Albanian capital, Tirana, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Fatos Nano, who is accused of corruption, manipulating election results, and failing to address the country’s economic problems. A coalition of 10 opposition parties calls for early elections.

February 22: Europe Union

Thirty-two Green parties from various European countries unite to form the first single Europe Green Party to run a common campaign for elections to the European Union parliament in June. The members still want to distinguish between national identities; however, they hope that pooling resources will make a difference.

March 8: Croatia

Two retired Croatian generals, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, agree to surrender to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. They are indicted for atrocities committed against Croatian Serbs during the 1995 war. Both generals deny any wrongdoing. The government’s cooperation with the tribunal is a main condition for Croatia’s ability to open accession talks with the European Union next year.

March 8: Austria

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party makes a comeback, winning 42.4 percent of the vote in the Alpine province of Carinthia. As a result, the party leader, Joerg Haider, will remain governor of the province. The victory is unexpected because nationwide support for the Freedom Party has declined since it entered government four years ago.

March 11: Spain

Three powerful bomb explosions on commuter trains in Spain’s capital, Madrid, during rush hour kill more than 200 people and injure well over 1,000. No group claims responsibility, but the Spanish government puts blame on the Basque separatist group, ETA. Basque regional Prime Minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe condemns the attacks and urges caution in blaming the Basque group.

March 14: Spain

Spain’s socialists win 42 percent of the vote in national elections, ousting the conservative prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, whose government was widely criticized for its handling of the Madrid bombings. New Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero calls for international alliance against terrorism and the end of U.S. unilateralism. He also warns he will withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq unless the UN takes charge.

March 18: Serbia and Montenegro

Crowds of angry Albanian protesters in Serbia and Montenegro’s province of Kosovo burn Serbian Orthodox churches and homes during a second day of violence, the worst since the 1999 Kosovo war. The protests started after the deaths of two Albanian children were blamed on Serbs. At least 31 people have died and about 500 have been injured. NATO announces it will reinforce its 18,500 troops in Kosovo.

March 29: Europe

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) celebrates the inclusion of seven new members, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The enlargement brings the number of NATO members to 26 and extends the alliance into the territory of the former Soviet Union and to the border with Russia.

April 1: Germany

The southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg is the country’s first state to ban teachers from wearing Islamic headscarves. Also, Berlin’s regional government agrees to outlaw all religious symbols for civil servants. The Muslim groups protest the new law as suppressing religious freedom. Another five of 16 states are in the process of introducing similar laws.

April 5: Slovenia

Ninety-four percent of Slovenians who participate in a referendum on the law restoring the citizenship and rights of ethnic minorities vote against the law. About 18,000-strong ethnic minorities, mostly from the former Yugoslavian republics, were removed from population records and lost their residency rights after Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia. The human-rights groups condemn the result, pointing to growing nationalism, xenophobia, and racism.

April 6: Lithuania

The Lithuanian parliament narrowly votes to impeach President Rolandas Paksas for leaking classified materials and giving a Russian businessman citizenship for financial support. The parliamentary chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, becomes acting president until a new president is elected.

April 14: Spain

The Spanish government says it has destroyed the militant Islamist group responsible for the Madrid bombings. The leader of the local cell, a Tunisian national Serhane ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, was killed in the police raid. The Madrid cell is also responsible for planting the explosives on the railway soon after the March 11 attacks.

April 18: Slovakia

Former parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic wins 60 percent of the vote in the Slovak presidential election, defeating the controversial nationalist ex-prime minister Vladimir Meciar. The critics say there is little difference between the two candidates as Gasparovic supported all of Meciar’s policies while in office. The post of president in Slovakia is mostly ceremonial.

April 20: Russia/Ukraine

The Ukrainian parliament ratifies a treaty on the country’s border with Russia and endorses an accord on the joint use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, stipulating that they are internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and Our Ukraine refuse to vote.

April 21: Croatia/European Union

The European Commission of the European Union (EU) recommends Croatia to become a formal candidate for the EU’s membership after its political and economic reforms were determined successful. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader says his country has made the first step to its final goal, which is a full membership in the EU within the next few years.

April 23: Denmark

Danish Defense Minister Svend Aage Jensby resigns amid criticism of government reports on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Denmark supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

April 23: Baltic states/Russia

Latvia’s government expels a Russian diplomat accused of trying to access NATO military infrastructure. It is the third time this year that a Russian diplomat has been expelled from the Baltic states. Previously, three Russian diplomats were expelled from Lithuania for trying to buy documents related to NATO and the EU. Also, Estonia expelled two Russian diplomats for spying. The Baltic states joined NATO in March.

April 24: Cyprus

More than three-quarters of Greek Cypriots who voted in a referendum reject the United Nations (UN) plan for reunification of Cyprus. In contrast, 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots endorse the plan. For the island to be reunified, however, both sides had to approve the plan. As a result, only the Greek part of Cyprus will join the European Union on May 1, but the EU announces it will end economic isolation of the Turkish Cyprus.

May 1: European Union

The European Union celebrates the inclusion of 10 new countries as members: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia, which marks the biggest enlargement in the history of the EU. Now the EU of 25 nations is the world’s largest trading bloc and has a combined population of 455 million.

May 2: Poland

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller resigns as his government’s popularity declines significantly due to continuing economic difficulties and corruption scandals. President Aleksander Kwasniewski designates former Finance Minister Marek Belka to take the post of prime minister.

May 24: Germany

Germany’s federal assembly selects a former head of the International Monetary Fund, Horst Koehler, as the country’s new president. His election is a victory for the conservative opposition Christian Democrats, who are pressing for economic reforms.

May 29: European Union

A summit of the European Union and Latin American leaders, held in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, ends with violent clashes between rioters who rallied for fair trade and against poverty. The summit reaches only a limited agreement on trade reform, with the EU cautiously agreeing to the G20 group proposal for agricultural tariff cuts. In foreign policy, however, the 58 leaders unanimously agree to urge the U.S. to seek greater UN involvement in Iraq.

June 19: European Union

The European Union reaches an agreement on its first constitution after long negotiations focused predominantly on national veto rights and the voting powers of the member states. All EU governments must ratify the constitution; several countries will hold referenda.

June 24: Poland

The Polish parliament narrowly approves Prime Minister Marek Belka and his leftist government after he lost one vote of confidence last month. His party, the governing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), lost popularity amid serious economic problems.

June 27: Lithuania

Former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus wins a second term in an election called to replace impeached President Rolandas Paksas. Adamkus was Lithuania’s president from 1998 to 2003 when he was unexpectedly defeated by Paksas.

June 29: Turkey

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rules that a Turkish university has the right to ban Muslim headscarves and subsequently rejects the appeal of a Turkish student who argued that the ban violated her freedom of religion. The Turkish government claims that headscarves violate the secular nature of the state. The court’s decision may have implications for other countries.

June 30: Denmark

Denmark takes over the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency. During its leadership, Denmark will focus on the future EU budget, terrorism and European security issues, and the controversial issue of membership negotiations with Turkey.

July 9: Germany

After four years of debate, Germany’s parliament passes the country’s first immigration law. The law makes it easier to bring migrant workers from outside the European Union in response to Germany’s aging population and lack of skilled workers. At the same time, the law allows authorities to deport individuals suspected of supporting political violence.

July 13: Serbia and Montenegro

Montenegro’s parliament votes to adopt a new flag, national anthem, and national day as part of the republic’s plans for independence from Serbia in 2006, when both Serbia and Montenegro will hold referenda on independence. The two republics form a loose union and maintain control over their own affairs.

July 26: Spain

The leader of Spain’s Basque region, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, meets with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to resume cooperation with the central government. He also says that he has not given up an idea of greater autonomy for the Basque region with separate courts and representation in organizations such as the European Union.

August 17: Germany

Thousands of people rally throughout German cities, protesting the welfare reforms. The new measures, which will lower long-term unemployment benefits, are especially opposed in eastern Germany, where unemployment reaches 18.5 percent. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says the reforms are needed to reinvigorate the economy.

September 1: Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Hague Tribunal finds a former member of the Bosnian Serb government, Radoslav Brdjanin, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and sentences him to 32 years in prison. Brdjanin authorized the torture and forcible deportation of Croats and Muslims from parts of Bosnia.

September 2: France

France’s controversial law banning Islamic headscarves and other visible religious symbols from public schools comes into effect despite threats on the part of Iraqi terrorists to kill two French journalists if France does not abandon the law. The ban expresses France’s tradition of strict separation of state and religion.

September 26: Germany/Italy

Italy criticizes Germany for applying for a permanent UN Security Council seat, saying that going along the national lines of interests would undermine the unity of Europe. Germany argues Europe would lose out if it were the only region without a new representative on an enlarged council. Other countries applying for permanent-member status are Brazil, India, and Japan.

September 27: Switzerland

In a referendum, Swiss voters reject proposals to loosen the country’s strict citizenship laws. Both proposals, to ease naturalization for foreigners brought up and educated in Switzerland and to grant automatic citizenship to the grandchildren of immigrants, were defeated. The supporters of the new law argue that too many people are left out from the country’s direct democracy system, while right-wing parties say immigrants would weaken Swiss identity.

October 15: Poland

Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka announces that early next year Poland will start reducing its 2,500-strong forces in Iraq until complete withdrawal by December 2005. A strong U.S. ally, Poland leads a multinational division of 8,000 troops in south-central Iraq. However, 70 percent of the Polish people oppose their country’s military presence in Iraq.

October 29: European Union

Leaders of the 25 European Union members sign the new EU constitution during a ceremony in Rome. However, the constitution still has to be ratified by every country, either by a referendum or a parliamentary vote.

November 3: Hungary

Hungary announces it will withdraw all of its 300 non-combat troops from Iraq by the end of March 2005, after the Iraqi elections. The Hungarian government has been pressured by the public and opposition groups to pull out from Iraq.

November 4: Greece/Macedonia

Greece makes an official protest over the United States’ recognition of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for its disputed name. Greece and Macedonia have had strained relations over Macedonia’s name, which is also the name of Greece’s northern province. Both countries have held UN-sponsored talks on the issue for a decade.

November 11: Lithuania/European Union

The Lithuanian parliament ratifies the new European Union constitution, making Lithuania the first out of the 25 EU members to do so.

November 27: Ukraine

During an emergency session, Ukraine’s parliament declares the presidential election results invalid amid massive week-long protests in Kiev and other major cities in Ukraine. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, take part in mediation between Ukraine’s government and the opposition to solve the post-election crisis. Supporters of Viktor Yanukovych threaten that if Yushchenko becomes president, eastern Ukraine will seek autonomy.

November 29: European Union/Russia

The European Union and Russia fail to complete negotiations on a strategic partnership agreement during the 14th Russia-EU summit in The Hague. Neither side could agree on security cooperation, specifically concerning Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and the Caucasus states. The EU is interested in closer ties with the former Soviet states, but Russia expresses its concern about expanding Europe into Russia’s sphere of influence.

December 2: European Union/Bosnia-Herzegovina

The European Union starts its largest-ever peacekeeping operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, deploying about 7,000 EUFOR troops that will replace NATO troops. The EUFOR mission is considered an important moment in the development of the EU’s defense and security policy.

December 3: Ukraine

Ukraine’s Supreme Court upholds the opposition’s claim that the presidential election was rigged, annuls the second round of the election, and rules that a new runoff vote must be held on December 26.

December 6: Spain

Following warnings from ETA, the Basque separatist group, seven bombs explode in Spain’s urban public areas on a holiday marking the 1978 constitution. ETA opposes the constitution, and the Spanish police warned of possible attacks.

December 13: Romania

Romania’s opposition leader from the Democratic Party, Traian Basescu, defeats his rival, leftist Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, in a closely fought presidential election. Basescu campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and his goal is to speed up Romania’s reforms required to enter the European Union in 2007.

December 15: Turkey/European Union

The European Parliament passes a nonbinding resolution opening accession negotiations with Turkey and monitoring Turkey’s progress in improving human rights, religious freedom, and women’s rights. Turkey, for its part, says it will accept only full membership with no special conditions imposed permanently and will not be forced to extend diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Cyprus. It also says that the decision to start talks must not be conditional on later decisions by EU leaders.

December 17 — Turkey/European Union/Cyprus

The European Union and Turkey reach an agreement in which Turkey agrees to recognize Cyprus by October 2005. The deal grants Greek Cyprus full recognition and gives the Turkish government more time to sell the idea to its people.

December 20: Hungary/European Union

The Hungarian parliament ratifies the European constitution, making Hungary the second EU member to do so, following the vote in Lithuania.

December 26: Ukraine

Ukraine’s opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, wins the third round of the contested presidential election, which was monitored by 12,000 international observers. Yushchenko’s rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, contests the result by claiming multiple irregularities and says he will not step down from his post.

December 28: Albania/Bulgaria/Macedonia/Russia

Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia agree to the construction of an oil pipeline that will transport 750,000 barrels of Russian and Caspian oil daily through the Balkan Peninsula. The 560-mile pipeline will be built by the U.S.-registered Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) and will extend from the Bulgarian port of Burgas, over the Black Sea, crossing Macedonia to the Albanian city of Vlore on the Adriatic coast.