News Timeline: Europe 2006


January 10: Ukraine/Russia

Ukraine’s parliament issues a vote of no confidence in the government in response to a recent deal with Russia ending a gas dispute between the two countries. Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on January 1 after Ukraine refused to accept a fourfold price increase. Ukraine accuses Russia that the move was a punishment for the “Orange Revolution” and the election of pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko. In the January 4 deal, Ukraine accepted a doubled gas price, and Russia agreed to pay a higher fee to transport the gas through Ukraine.

January 19: United Kingdom

The United Kingdom cuts all aid to the Ethiopian government due to concerns over human rights violations since the country’s last elections in May. The elections were the closest in Ethiopia’s history, and have resulted in clashes between the government and the opposition party. UK Development Minister Hilary Benn cites growing concern over the crackdown on the opposition and the detention of political prisoners in Ethiopia.

January 23: Europe

France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands launch a new military police squad, the European Gendarmerie. The force consists of 800 policemen deployable within a 30 day-notice, and 2,300 officers in reserve. The Gendarmerie will aid global peacekeeping missions in the transition period from military operations to the restoration of civil order. Other EU nations expect to be invited to supply troops for the force in the future.

January 30: France

France’s President, Jacques Chirac, announces a slavery memorial day to be held annually on May 10th, the day when France designated slavery as a crime against humanity in 2001. The move follows an upsurge in racial tension in France, which culminated in riots in the Paris suburbs late last year. Earlier this month, Chirac announced an end to a 2005 law that requires teachers to emphasize the positive aspects of French colonialism.

February 27: Bosnia-Herzegovina/Serbia and Montenegro

The International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) begins the trial of Serbia and Montenegro for crimes of genocide during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. Bosnia-Herzegovina is seeking compensation for war crimes, which could amount to billions of dollars. Serbia denies that it was trying to intentionally wipe out the Muslim population in Bosnia.

February 27: European Union

The European Union (EU) offers the Palestinian Authority (PA) $140 million in emergency aid that will support the operation of its government for two months. The PA found itself in serious financial troubles after Israel cut off monthly tax revenue payments following the election of militant group, Hamas, in January.

March 7: France

More than 100,000 people take part in demonstrations across France, protesting new legislation on youth employment contracts. The government’s plan would permit small companies to offer two-year trial contracts to people under the age of twenty-six. The government argues that this would enable more young workers to find permanent employment. The plan would also allow companies to fire workers on short notice.

March 11: Former Yugoslavia

Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-president of the former Yugoslavia, is found dead in his cell at The Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Although his supporters claim he was poisoned, Dutch officials find that Milosevic died of natural causes. The ex-president had been held at The Hague since 2001, charged with genocide and other war crimes during the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo during the 1990s. His death follows last week’s suicide of Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic, who was also being held at The Hague.

March 22: Spain/France

The Basque separatist group ETA declares a permanent cease-fire. The group claims that it has turned towards a democratic and peaceful means of gaining independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and southwestern France. ETA has been blamed for over eight hundred deaths since the 1970s. The group previously declared a cease-fire in 1998, but rescinded it after one year.

March 27: Ukraine

Ukrainian voters choose former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s party over that of President Viktor Yushchenko in the country’s parliamentary elections. Yushchenko swept to power in 2004’s Orange Revolution, which overturned Yanukovych’s presidential election victory. The party of Yushchenko’s former ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, places second, with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine coming in third. Public support for Yushchenko has fallen after a year of political infighting and poor economic performance.

March 28 – Belarus

Belarusian authorities jail more than 150 opposition protesters after street demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory in elections described by the international monitors as deeply fraudulent. Among the imprisoned are a runner-up in the election, Alexander Kozulin and a former Polish ambassador to Belarus, Mariusz Maszkiewicz. The United States and the European Union agree to impose a travel ban on President Lukashenko.

April 10: European Union/Belarus

European Union officials ban visas for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and thirty ministers following Belarus’ March presidential election, described by international observers as neither free nor fair. The fraudulent election sparked demonstrations in the country’s capital, Minsk. Hundreds of opposition supporters were arrested by the regime.

April 18: Ukraine

An environmental charity group, Greenpeace, issues a report on health effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986, which says that the number of cancer deaths will be 93,000, the number much higher than previously predicted by the United Nations. It also says that other illnesses related to the radioactive fallout could reach 200,000.

April 19: Italy

Italy’s Supreme Court rules that center-left opposition leader Romano Prodi is the country’s winner of the contested parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi contested Prodi’s narrow win. Romano Prodi is a former prime minister and former president of the European Commission.

April 23: Hungary

In Hungary’s parliamentary election, ruling Socialists win a second term by sweeping 210 out of 386 parliamentary seats. The main opposition party, Fidesz, won 164 seats and the smaller right-wing MDF party 11. During the campaign the government promised to continue its centrist policies.

May 1: European Union

Four member states of the European Union (EU), Finland, Greece, Portugal, and Spain, agree to open labor markets to workers from eight new members. They join Britain, Ireland, and Sweden, which have already seen economic benefits from new laborers. Other EU countries are wary of an influx of cheap labor. The new member states, eight from Central and Eastern Europe plus Malta and Cyprus, were admitted into the EU in 2004.

May 16: Italy

Giorgio Napolitano, the eighty-year-old former communist, wins the Italian presidential election with an absolute majority. Italy’s president, who holds few powers, is elected by grand electors, including legislators from both houses of the parliament and representatives of regional governments. Napolitano is supported by incoming Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and is a well-respected member of the Democrats of the Left party.

May 16: European Union

The European Commission recommends that Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union (EU) as scheduled next year as long as they make tangible reforms. Bulgaria must show progress in dealing with corruption and organized crime. Romania must make reforms to guarantee full compatibility with EU programs. The commission also accepts Slovenia, a member state since 2004, into the single-currency euro zone. Slovenia will switch its currency to the euro in January 2007.

May 22: Serbia-Montenegro

Montenegro votes to become independent from Serbia. As a result, Serbia becomes a successor state, which means that Montenegro will have to apply for membership in the United Nations and other international organizations. Serbia also inherits the region of Kosovo, but loses access to the Adriatic Sea. Montenegro’s prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, hopes that independence will help Montenegro join the European Union. The departure of Montenegro marks the end of former Yugoslavia.

May 30: European Union

The European Court of Justice blocks an EU-U.S. agreement that allows for the transfer of airline passenger information, including names, addresses, and credit card details. The court rules that there is no legal basis for the actions, and that there is not enough reassurance that the data would be protected. The United States claims it needs the data to fight terrorism.

May 31: United Kingdom

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair admit to errors in Iraq. The two leaders cite the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison and the exclusion of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party members from the new government as examples. Both argue that regardless of the errors, the course of action in Iraq has been necessary, and call for international support for the new Iraqi government. U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq and deposed Hussein’s government in 2003.

June 15: Lithuania

Zigmantas Balcytis has been named the new prime minister filling the gap left by the previous prime minister’s resignation amid allegations of corruption. Balcytis, a member of the left-wing Social Democratic Party, faces the need to create a governing coalition and to restore confidence in the government. Allegations of corruption have plagued the Lithuania government and attempts to form a grand coalition have failed.

June 19: Spain

Voters in the Spanish region of Catalonia vote overwhelmingly for a charter granting their region more independence from Madrid. The measure gives Catalonia more control in taxation, judiciary, airports, ports, and immigration. The charter will also give the Catalans a nation status within Spain. The Spanish government, Catalonia’s ruling Socialists, and moderate nationalists supported the charter. The conservative Popular Party and leftists both opposed it.

July 14: Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Hague war crimes tribunal begins prosecuting seven former Bosnian Serb officers for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, during which 8,000 Bosnian Muslims died. Five of the seven officers are standing trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. The case is the largest thus far for the war crimes tribunal.

August 3: Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko agrees that his rival Viktor Yanukovych should become the country’s next prime minister. Some of the Orange Revolution supporters, which brought President Yushchenko to power, accuse him of betraying the Revolution. Ukraine has experienced power struggle since the March parliamentary elections, in which no party won a majority. However, Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions won the most votes.

September 1: Belgium

The mayor of the town of Merchtem in Belgium is criticized for a ban on speaking French in the town’s schools. The ban restricts any use of French on school grounds. This ban includes any French spoken between parents and children and during parents’ meetings. However, interpreters will be made available if necessary. The ban is meant to preserve the Dutch language in an area where Flemish communities fund the schools.

September 12: Montenegro

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic wins the country’s first general election since independence from Serbia in May. Mr. Djukanovic leads the pro-Western coalition that won the majority of the seats in the new country’s parliament. His administration vows to seek rapid integration into the European Union and tackle the problems of organized crime.

September 21: Hungary

Hungary’s main opposition party rejects talks with the government in the wake of anti-government protests and rioting. The demonstrations are the result of a leaked tape in which Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admits that he lied about the state of the economy. Hungary’s economy is falling into crisis as the country’s currency declines in value and its international credit rating is suffering.

September 25: Vatican City

Pope Benedict XVI meets with envoys from Muslim nations after his controversial remarks regarding Islam and the Prophet Mohammed led to anger throughout the Muslim world. The Pope calls for interfaith dialogue, a rejection of violence, and a respect for religious liberty. Pope Benedict faced a storm of criticism and anger when, in a speech, he referenced a 14th century quote that labeled Mohammed’s contributions to religion as “evil and inhuman,” and equated Islam and violence.

October 12: France

The French parliament passes a bill making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of the Turks in the early 1900s. The measure provides for a year in jail and a heavy fine to anyone who denies the Armenian genocide. The move strains relations between Turkey and France, which further complicates Turkey’s bid for European Union membership.

October 23: Iceland

Iceland violates a twenty-one-year-old international moratorium on commercial whaling by allowing the killing of endangered fin whales. The first killing comes one week after Iceland’s announcement that it planned to resume commercial whale hunting. Iceland claims that there are enough fin whales to support hunting in coastal waters, but the World Conservation Union lists the species as endangered.

October 30: Serbia

Serbian voters approve a new constitution stating that Kosovo is an integral part of the country. The draft constitution also calls for an end to the death penalty and a ban on human cloning. Kosovo Albanians do not participate in the vote because of boycotts on Serbian elections in place since 1990. The constitution is the first created in Serbia since the break-up of Yugoslavia.

November 13: European Union/Poland

Poland vetoes a proposed EU-Russia partnership agreement covering energy, trade, and human rights. Poland insists that Russia lift a ban on Polish food imports and ratifies the Energy Charter Treaty. While not all EU members demand that Russia ratify the treaty, some fear that disagreement over Russia may damage the EU’s credibility.

November 24: France

Rwanda breaks off diplomatic ties with France after a French judge issues arrest warrants for nine aides of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The warrants concern the killing of Rwanda’s former president, an event that set off the 1994 genocide in which over 800,000 people died. The break follows France’s declassification of files on the genocide, a move intended to refute accusations that French troops were complicit in the massacre.

November 30: France

French fighter planes attack rebels in northern Central African Republic (CAR), where rebels have recently seized several towns. France previously promised logistical and intelligence support to CAR in its fight against the rebels. The UN says the conflict is linked to fighting in neighboring Chad and Sudan. The unrest has led to 46,000 people fleeing into Chad and another 90,000 internally displaced within CAR.

December 4: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009 sparks debate among member states. Kazakhstan’s vast oil and gas reserves may represent an alternative to Russian energy, but some are concerned over the country’s record on human rights and democracy. The OSCE was founded during the Cold War to combat mistrust between Russia and the West. It has fifty-six member states.

December 11: European Union/Turkey

Turkey’s failure to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic leads the European Union (EU) to suspend talks in eight policy areas required for Turkey’s membership in the EU. Turkey’s EU membership talks began in 2005.

December 14: Bosnia-Herzegovina/Montenegro/Serbia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) welcomes Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro into its Partnership for Peace on the eleventh anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia. The move puts the three countries on the path to a future NATO membership. Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav state with full NATO membership.

December 29: United Kingdom

United Kingdom settles its World War II debts to the United States and Canada after sixty years. The loan, which totaled $5.5 billion, was given to Britain in 1950 to defeat Nazi Germany and rebuild the country in the postwar period.