News Timeline: Europe 2009


January 1: Russia/Ukraine/European Union

Russia stops gas supplies to Ukraine after talks on a new contract reach impasse over gas prices and Ukraine’s unpaid bills. Both Russia and Ukraine assure that the supplies of gas to Europe will not be disrupted. Europe imports more than 40 percent of its gas from Russia, which most of it is transported through the Ukrainian territory. (January 7): Russia halts all gas supplies through Ukraine, accusing the country of siphoning gas meant for Europe. The move causes unease in many European countries, especially in those that import more than 80 percent of their gas from Russia. (January 14): The European Union threatens Russian and Ukrainian gas companies with legal action if they do not restore gas supplies soon. Some European countries, such as Bulgaria, have been hit hard by shortages of gas in one of the coldest winters, closing schools and other public buildings. (January 19): Russia and Ukraine sign a 10-year gas deal, bringing the dispute to an end. The incident, however, has undermined Russia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of gas.

January 14: Latvia

Hundreds of anti-government protesters clash with police in Latvia’s capital, Riga. Demonstrators demand new elections, blaming the government for mishandling the financial crisis, rising unemployment, and taxes.

January 20: Iceland

Iceland announces that its economy is expected to contract by almost 10 percent this year and no growth is expected in 2010. (January 21): About 2,000 protesters angry at the country’s financial crisis and rising unemployment demand the government to step down. (January 23): Prime Minister Geir Haarde calls for parliamentary elections to be held on May 9, two years early. (January 26): Iceland’s conservative government resigns after unsuccessful talks with the coalition partner.

February 1: Iceland

Johanna Sigurdardottier is named Iceland’s new prime minister after Prime Minister Geir Haarde’s resignation under the pressure caused by the country’s escalating economic crisis.

February 3: France/Germany

France and Germany work out a plan to station German troops in France’s eastern region of Alsace-Lorraine as part of Franco-German brigade developed in 1989, a joint formation integrated in Eurocorps. The move symbolizes Franco-German unity as the two countries fought wars over Alsace-Lorraine in the past.

February 20: Latvia

The crisis caused by global recession forces Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis and his government out of power. Once fastest growing economy in Europe with 12 percent annual growth, Latvia’s economy contracted 5 percent in 2008 and is expected to decline by 12 percent this year. (February 26): Latvia’s president, Valdis Zatlers, nominates former finance minister Valdis Dombrovskis as the country’s new prime minister. Dombrovskis has a difficult task to bring Latvia back from the verge of bankruptcy.

February 25: Turkey

A prominent Kurdish member of parliament in Turkey, Ahmet Turk, ignores the law and gives his speech in the parliament in Kurdish. The live broadcast is immediately interrupted, while the members of his party give him a standing ovation. Although ethnic Kurds constitute one-fifth of Turkey’s population, the Kurdish language is banned in state institutions.

March 17: France

The French parliament approves President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to change France’s membership status in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to a full one. The move reverses the 1966 decision by President Charles de Gaulle to pull France out of NATO’s military command, claiming it undermined France’s independence.

March 21: Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany announces his resignation amid Hungary’s economic problems. His popularity significantly declined after he approved raising taxes and spending cuts, and after it was revealed that he lied about the poor state of the country’s financial situation to win reelection. Last year, Hungary received a $25 billion bailout loan from the IMF to avoid economic collapse. (March 30): The governing coalition approves Economy Minister Gordon Bajnai to become Hungary’s next prime minister.

March 31 — Europe

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that more than 200 African migrants are feared dead when a boat carrying 250 people overturned off the coast of Libya. From North Africa, migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea to the Italian island of Lampedusa. In 2008, more than 30,000 African migrants reached the island.

April 19: Cyprus

Turkish Cypriot ruling Republican Turkish Party (CTP) loses to the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP) in parliamentary elections in Northern Cyprus. Pro-unity Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will stay in power, but his position will be weakened by the nationalists who favor closer links with Turkey rather than the European Union. They intend to press for the two-state solution.

April 28: Cyprus/European Union

The European Court of Justice upholds the ruling of a Cypriot court supporting the right of a Greek Cypriot who fled his home during Turkish invasion in 1974 to reclaim his land, or obtain compensation. The ruling establishes a precedent, opening the door to thousands of similar claims by Greek Cypriots.

May 26: France

France opens a military base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will house 500 troops and contain a navy and air base as well as a training camp. For France, the base is important because of its strategic location in the Gulf. For the UAE and its Arab neighbors concerned about nuclear threat from Iran, the French base provides regional stability.

June 7: European Union

The Europeans across the 27 EU-member countries conclude casting their votes in the four-day long elections for the European Parliament. The 736 members of the parliament are chosen for a term of five years. Voters choose representatives from among their own national parties, who then join EU groups of the similar nature. The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) secures the most seats, 265, while the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES) wins 183, and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) 84 seats. Other parties, such as the Green-European Freedom Alliance and marginal far-right and anti-immigration parties, also pick up some seats. The voter turnout stands at 43 percent, the lowest in the last 30 years. The strong showing of the conservatives secures the second term for Jose Manuel Barroso as the European Commission president.

June 8: Great Britain

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces criticism from his Labour Party members and calls for resignation after dismal showing of his party in the European parliamentary elections. The Labour Party won only 15 percent of the vote, coming behind the center-right Conservative Party and the anti-European Union Independence Party (UKIP). Another party that gains seats in the European Parliament is the far-right British National Party.

July 13: Europe

Five European countries, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey, sign an agreement to build the long-awaited Nabucco natural gas pipeline. The 2,050 mile-long pipeline will bring natural gas from the Caspian Sea across the Turkish territory to Europe. The Nabucco pipeline is an attempt to reduce dependence on Russian gas supplies.

July 14: European Union

The newly elected European Parliament chooses Former Prime Minister of Poland, Jerzy Buzek, to be its next president. This is the first time that this position goes to a politician from the former communist countries. Buzek headed a conservative coalition government in Poland between 1997 and 2001.

July 20: Bosnia-Herzegovina

The International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague finds Bosnian Serb cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic guilty of war crimes and ethnic cleansing of Muslims during the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1994 and gives them extensive jail sentences. As members of a paramilitary group, the Lukic cousins committed atrocities, including burning Muslim men, women, and children alive.

July 23: Iceland/European Union

Iceland officially applies for the European Union’s membership. Iceland is already part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Schengen Area, and after last year’s economic crisis, it saw it beneficial to become a part of the EU. Before it can happen, however, the country will have to approve the move in a referendum in 2012.

July 29: Spain

A car bomb explodes in the city of Burgos in northern Spain, damaging the Civil Guard barracks and injuring dozens of people. A day later, a car bomb explodes in Majorca, killing two Civil Guard officers. The militant Basque organization ETA is blamed for both attacks. Although ETA has been weakened in recent years and lost much of its popular support among the Basque minority, the recent attacks prove that it is still a dangerous organization.

August 14: United Kingdom

The United Kingdom imposes direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands, one of its territories in the Caribbean with about 30,000 inhabitants, accusing the ruling elites of endemic corruption and incompetence. The islands will be governed by a UK-appointed representative.

September 1: United Kingdom/Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations suspends Fiji’s membership after Commodore Frank Bainimarama refused to hold elections by 2010, which he promised after seizing power in a 2006 coup. Bainimarama claims he needs more time to reform a voting system that favors ethnic Fijians. His critics, however, say he suspended the constitution and detained his opponents. With its full suspension, Fiji will not be eligible for the Commonwealth aid.

September 17: Poland/Czech Republic

The United States President Barack Obama cancels the controversial plan to build anti-ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan, initiated by the George W. Bush Administration and strongly opposed by Russia, intended to destroy incoming ballistic missiles from North Korea and Iran. It involved using radar and interceptors in the U.S., but also installing additional interceptors in Poland and building a radar station in the Czech Republic. President Obama says that more an effective way to tackle Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles will be a system that uses land- and sea-based interceptors.

October 3: European Union

Irish voters approve the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum held 18 months after the first one that rejected it. The voters approve it after the EU gave Ireland guarantees that the treaty would not infringe on the country’s key issues of sovereignty, such as taxation and social issues. Ireland is the only country holding a referendum on the treaty, which aims at making the Union more efficient and cannot go into effect until all 27 EU members ratify it.

October 10: Poland/European Union

Polish President Lech Kaczynski signs the Lisbon Treaty after receiving an exemption from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is part of the treaty. The Czech Republic remains the only country that has yet to ratify the treaty. Its Eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus claims that the treaty will undermine his country’s sovereignty and demands similar opt-outs and sovereignty guarantees.

October 20: Russia/Serbia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pays an official visit to Serbia, where he approves a $1.5 billion loan for the country. The loan will cover Serbia’s deficit and investment in infrastructure. Russia and Serbia are traditional allies, who focus on strategic cooperation such as the South Stream gas pipeline, which will bypass Ukraine and bring natural gas from Russia to Europe through Serbia.

November 3: European Union/Czech Republic

Czech President Vaclav Klaus signs the long overdue Lisbon Treaty, removing the last obstacle for the treaty to come into force. Klaus decided to sign it after the EU had given the Czech Republic an opt-out option from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and after the Czech Constitutional Court had ruled that the treaty was compatible with the Czech constitution. (November 20): EU Trade Commissioner and former UK minister Baroness Ashton becomes the EU’s first High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security, while the Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy, becomes the EU’s first permanent European Council President. The two posts have been created by the new Lisbon Treaty. The treaty will come into force on December 1.

November 29 — Switzerland

Switzerland approves a proposal by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that bans the construction of minarets. The SVP claims that the minarets symbolize Islamization. Switzerland has about 400,000 Muslims, but only four minarets. The vote shows the Swiss people’s concern about rising immigration.

December 6: Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s well-known journalist who reported on Bulgarian mafia, Boris Tsankov, is gunned down during the day in the middle of the country’s busy capital, Sofia. Another writer, Georgi Stoev, who published several books on connections between Bulgarian organized crime and businessmen, was assassinated in 2008. The European Union pressures Bulgaria to deal with the high-level crime and corruption by threatening it to withdraw some of the EU funding, as it did after the 2008 murder.

December 16: Switzerland

An Algerian-born Muslim living in Switzerland and a former spokesman for the Geneva Mosque Hafid Ouardiri submits a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against the Swiss ban on building minarets. The claim says that the ban, which was passed last month in a referendum, discriminates and violates the rights of freedom of religion. It might take up to 18 months for the court to approve the case, and then several more years to come up with a ruling.