News Timeline: Europe 2008


January 1: European Union

Cyprus and Malta adopt the euro, becoming the 14th and 15th EU members to replace their currency with the euro. The two Mediterranean island states will have the same voting rights as the other 13 members at the European Central Bank.

January 11: European Union

The European Union approves a peacekeeping force for Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) to protect internally displaced persons, Darfur refugees, and aid workers, as violence between Chadian forces and Darfur rebels escalates. Camps in Chad host about 240,000 refugees from Sudan’s region of Darfur, along with 180,000 displaced Chadians, and 45,000 Central Africans. The force, known as Eufor Chad/CAR, will consist of 3,700 troops, more than half French. The operation is separate from the United Nations’ ongoing mission in Darfur.

January 15: France

In an effort to increase France’s prestige abroad, French President Nicolas Sarkozy signs a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to establish a permanent French naval base in Abu Dhabi, France’s first base in the Persian Gulf. France also agrees to help the UAE build two nuclear energy reactors.

January 23: Greece/Turkey

Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis arrives in Turkey for a three-day visit, the first official visit by a Greek leader in almost fifty years. Although relations between the two countries have improved greatly in the past decade, territorial disputes over the Aegean Sea and, especially, the future of the divided island of Cyprus remain.

January 24: Italy

A senate no-confidence vote forces Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to resign. Prodi, who led a center-left government coalition for 20 months, faced nearly three dozen no-confidence votes before losing the latest one. Constant bickering among the coalition members prevented Prodi from implementing many of the economic and electoral reforms he promised. Prodi’s government was Italy’s 61st government in the 62 years since the end of World War II.

January 25: Russia/Serbia/Bulgaria

Serbia and Russia’s state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, sign an energy agreement that gives Gazprom a controlling stake in Serbia’s national gas and oil monopoly, NIS. Gazprom also agrees to construct a gas pipeline through Serbia to pump Russian natural gas to other European countries. The deal, together with another deal reached four days earlier with Bulgaria to build a fuel pipeline, gives the Russian company significant control over gas supplies to Europe.

February 24: Cyprus

Demetris Christofias of the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) wins Cyprus’s presidential election, becoming the only communist head of state in the European Union. In contrast with his predecessor, Christofias promises to pursue a reunification settlement with the Turkish-Cypriot northern part of the island.

March 16: Kosovo

More than a hundred people are injured and one UN officer killed in violent clashes in the Kosovar town of Mitrovica. The incident happens during an attempt by UN forces to retake the local courthouse occupied by Serbs opposed to Kosovo’s independence. This is the worst unrest in Kosovo since its declaration of independence last month.

March 18: Belgium

After intense negotiations, five Dutch- and French-speaking parties agree to form a coalition government led by Christian Democrat Yves Leterme. The agreement ends a nine-month political deadlock over the degree of devolution to be given to regional governments. The new government plans a major reform of the state.

April 3: Cyprus

Greek and Turkish Cypriot authorities open a crossing point at Ledra Street, the main shopping street in Cyprus’s divided capital, Nicosia. It is a symbolic gesture before the start of renewed negotiation efforts to reunify the island. Talks are scheduled for June of this year. The street had been barricaded since 1964.

April 9: Kosovo/Serbia

Kosovo’s parliament unanimously adopts a constitution just two months after unilaterally declaring independence from Serbia. The new document includes a provision about the protection of minorities. The charter will come into force on June 15 after the UN hands over powers to the new country. Serbia calls the adoption of the constitution an illegal act.

April 14: Italy

Italy’s center-right People of Freedom coalition, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, wins a decisive victory in general elections. Berlusconi will become prime minister for the third time after two years in opposition. The main issue in the election was Italy’s struggling economy, which has been characterized by slow growth, low productivity, and steadily declining competitiveness. Berlusconi’s new government will be Italy’s 62nd since World War II.

April 17: Spain

A bomb explodes outside an office of the ruling Spanish Socialist party in the Basque city of Bilbao in northern Spain, injuring seven police officers. Officials blame Basque separatist group ETA, which ended a 15-month ceasefire in June 2007. The explosion comes a day after Spain’s parliament was inaugurated in Madrid, following elections won by the Socialists. Last month, ETA claimed a murder of a former Socialist town councilman two days before the March 9 general election.

April 17: Europe

India mobilizes heavy security to protect the Olympic torch as it passes through Delhi. As a preventative measure, the authorities detain at least 100 pro-Tibet demonstrators, while Tibetan exiles organize an alternative peaceful torch relay event. India is home to the world’s largest community of Tibetan expatriates and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. In previous weeks, the Olympic torch relay was disrupted in London, Paris and San Francisco by protesters objecting to China’s human rights record and its rule in Tibet.

April 23: Denmark/Netherlands

Denmark and the Netherlands evacuate their embassies in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, in response to threats from extremists over the reprinting of a Danish cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad and the release of an anti-Koran film by a Dutch politician.The two governments have also moved staff out of their respective embassies in Algeria and Pakistan for the same reasons. Both the cartoon and the film have sparked strong protests and condemnation from Muslim countries.

May 11: Serbia

A pro-European coalition led by Serbian President Boris Tadic comes out ahead with 39 percent of the vote in Serbia’s parliamentary elections, seen as a referendum on whether Serbia should strive toward European Union membership. The hard-line nationalist Radical Party takes only 29 percent. Pro-European support was likely swayed in part by the European Union signing a stabilization agreement with Serbia on April 29th, usually a first step on the long path to EU membership. The Radical Party advocated a pro-Russia policy.

June 2: Denmark

A car bomb explodes outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, killing six people and injuring 30. Al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan, claims responsibility for the attack. The group says the attack is in revenge for the February reprinting of a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers. They deem the cartoon offensive to Islam, which prohibits the depiction of Muhammad.

June 10: Europe

Two truck drivers die in Spain and Portugal during strikes that have swept through Europe over the rising price of fuel. Fishermen, too, have protested for several weeks in Belgium, Italy, France, Portugal, and the UK, some blocking ports and demanding government subsidies to offset rising fuel costs.

June 12: Ireland/European Union

In a referendum, Irish voters reject the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, which contains institutional reforms designed to run the expanded union efficiently. Many ‘no’ voters cite distrust of European bureaucracy or insufficient understanding of the treaty. Ireland is the only EU country to hold a referendum on the proposed treaty. So far, 18 EU members have ratified the treaty in their parliaments.

June 17: France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announces that France intends to return to full participation in NATO’s integrated military command structure. Although France was a founding member of NATO in 1949, President Charles de Gaulle withdrew the country from the integrated military structure in 1966, because he perceived it to be dominated by U.S. interests. Since 1995, however, France has participated in NATO’s peacekeeping missions.

June 18: European Union

The European Parliament passes immigration legislation allowing undocumented migrants to be held in detention for periods of up to 18 months and creating a five-year reentry ban against those expelled. Member countries of the South American MERCOSUR organization issue a joint protest against the directive. Also, human rights groups, including Amnesty International, criticize the measures as overly restrictive.

June 20: European Union

The European Union lifts the diplomatic sanctions it imposed on Cuba in 2003. The largely symbolic measures were imposed in protest of the imprisonment of more than 70 Cuban dissidents. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, there are still about 230 political detainees in Cuban prisons. The EU says that by removing the sanctions it wants to encourage the new Cuban government of Raul Castro to implement more reforms.

June 23: European Union

The European Union approves new financial sanctions against Iran over the country’s refusal to curb its uranium enrichment program. The sanctions include freezing the assets of its largest bank, Bank Melli, which is suspected of providing services to Iran’s missile programs.

July 8: Czech Republic/Russia

The Czech Republic signs an agreement with the United States to host a radar base for the controversial U.S. missile defense shield project. Russia, which regards the project as hostile and a potential threat to its own territory, threatens to retaliate by military means. The United States argues that the defense system is directed against long-range missiles from rogue countries, such as Iran.

July 13: Europe

French President Nicolas Sarkozy launches the Union for the Mediterranean, a new international organization that will focus on bringing peace to the Mediterranean region and improving the European Union’s relations with the Middle East and North Africa. The union gathers 43 states, including all 27 EU members. Some key issues of the union are energy, security, counter-terrorism, immigration, trade, and environment.

July 21: Bosnia-Herzegovina

The former Bosnian Serb leader and one of the world’s most wanted men, Radovan Karadzic, is arrested 13 years after he was indicted by the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He faces charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during Bosnia’s civil war, including the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Karadzic had been living and working in disguise under an alias in Belgrade.

July 23: European Union/Bulgaria/Romania

The European Union (EU) indefinitely suspends about $800 million in aid for Bulgaria because of the country’s failure to adequately address corruption and organized crime. In a separate report, the EU also criticizes Romania for not doing enough to combat corruption and to reform its judiciary; however, for now, it does not impose financial penalties. Both countries joined the EU in 2007 on the condition that they would curb corruption and continue key reforms.

July 30: Turkey

Turkey’s Constitutional Court narrowly decides against banning the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party. The party was accused of introducing an Islamist agenda that undermined Turkey’s secular constitution. The case against the AK governing party was largely based on its decision to allow Islamic headscarves at universities. This move was overturned by the same court last month.

August 14: Poland

Poland signs a deal with the United States to base 10 interceptor missiles on Polish territory as part of the controversial U.S. missile defense shield project. Negotiations with Poland went on for a year and a half, but were accelerated by the Russian invasion of Georgia. In exchange for placing the base in Polish territory, the United States agrees to supply Poland with short-range Patriot missiles for its own defense and guarantees assistance if Poland is attacked. The deal angers Russia, which says Poland has made itself a target of a possible nuclear strike.

September 3: Cyprus

Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat meet in the divided capital, Nicosia, to initiate talks aimed at reunifying the country. Previous negotiations ended in stalemate four years earlier.

September 3: Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s party, Our Ukraine, pulls out of the ruling coalition after Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc backed the opposition’s legislation designed to curtail presidential powers. (Sept. 16): Ukraine’s governing coalition collapses. Parliament now has 30 days to form another coalition. If it fails to do so, the president can dissolve the parliament and call an election.

October 1: European Union/Russia/Georgia

More than 200 European Union observers arrive in Georgia to monitor the pullout of Russian troops from the buffer zones surrounding Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) is deployed under a French-brokered ceasefire deal between Russia and Georgia. However, Russia, which has recognized the independence of the two breakaway regions, plans to keep 8,000 troops there. (October 22): The United States, the European Union, and international organizations pledge $4.55 billion for Georgia to resettle refugees and rebuild infrastructure after the country’s brief conflict with Russia.

October 8: Ukraine

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko dissolves parliament and announces general elections to take place in December. This will be the third parliamentary election in less than three years.

October 11: Austria

Jörg Haider, the controversial leader of the Austrian far-right party the Alliance for Austria’s Future, dies in a car accident. Haider was known for his anti-immigration and anti-EU policies. The Alliance and another far-right party, Freedom Party, won 29 percent of the vote in the most recent general elections.

October 12: Germany/France/Spain/Austria/Italy

Several of Europe’s major countries announce multi-billion dollar rescue plans to prop up their troubled banks. Germany approves $680 billion, France $530 billion, and Spain $150 billion to buy stakes in their ailing financial institutions, guarantee lending between banks, and lift investor confidence. Austria and Italy also pledge to follow with similar plans.

October 27: European Union/Hungary/Ukraine

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) offers Ukraine a loan of $16.5 billion to help it maintain economic and financial stability. The global demand for steel, Ukraine’s main export commodity, falls, causing Ukrainian currency to plummet. Also, the country’s banks and stocks are badly hit by the global financial crisis. (October 29): The IMF, the European Union, and the World Bank grant Hungary a rescue package of $25 billion to offset the devastating results of the global economic crisis on the country’s economy and restore investor confidence. Hungary’s economy depends on overseas loans, but, as global credit has tightened, investors have pulled out.

November 26: Denmark

The people of Greenland vote in a referendum for more autonomy from Denmark. According to the plan, Greenland will have a greater share of oil revenues coming from the island’s coast and take control of police, courts, and coast guard. It will also have more say in foreign policy.

November 26: European Union

The European Commission announces a $280 billion plan aimed at stimulating the economy and boosting consumer confidence.  According to the plan, the EU member states are expected to contribute $240 billion while the EU’s contribution will amount to $43 billion. The EC plans to help the car industry to develop green technologies, improve energy efficiency, help small and medium sized businesses, and provide easier access to job training.

December 9: Ukraine

The pro-Western parties of President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko agree to re-form their coalition government and cancel early parliamentary elections. Although the alliance is fragile, it brings hopes that it will bring the end to the political deadlock that has lasted since September.