News Timeline: Europe 2011


January 10: Spain

Spain’s Basque separatist group ETA that has been fighting for independence from Spain announces a permanent ceasefire. The Spanish government says, however, the group comes short of complete disarming or dissolution. ETA has been recently weakened by multiple arrests of its leaders and pressured by its banned political wing, Batasuna, which would like to take part in the country’s political process.

January 31: Belarus/European Union

In response to the last month’s fraudulent presidential election and the crackdown on the opposition in Belarus, the European Union and the United States toughen and widen sanctions on the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, and other senior officials. The sanctions include freezing assets, stricter financial controls, and a travel ban.

February 15: Italy/European Union

The European Union’s border agency Frontex sends several dozen patrol agents, patrol boats and aircraft to the Italian island of Lampedusa to help Italy with the surge of illegal immigrants escaping Tunisia following last month’s mass protests. In just one week, about 5,000 immigrants reached the island by boat. The influx is affecting the EU as a whole, as many of these migrants try to settle in other EU countries.

March 4: United Kingdom

The Welsh people approve devolution in a referendum, which gives the Welsh Assembly powers to make laws in 20 areas, such as health, agriculture, and education. Consequently, the Assembly will not need the UK Parliament’s approval to deal with issues from within the designated areas.

March 8: Serbia/Kosovo

Serbia and Kosovo meet for EU-sponsored talks that are to focus on issues, such as telecommunication, transport, and airspace. Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence in 2008, and so far has been recognized by 75 countries; however, Serbia is not among them. Resolving issues with Kosovo is a key condition for Serbia to be considered for the European Union membership.

April 6 — Europe

Italian coast guards rescue several dozen of illegal migrants whose boat capsized just south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. More than 130 people, however, are missing. The boat, which took off from western Libya, carried more than 200 people mostly from African countries: Eritrea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Chad, Nigeria, and Sudan. Hundreds of migrants have been recently arriving in Lampedusa, overwhelming its facilities.

April 11: France

France’s ban on wearing Islamic face veils, such as niqab or burka, in public places comes into force. A woman wearing a face veil can be detained and fined. Those who force a woman to wear a face veil, however, face larger fines and prison terms up to two years. France is the first country in Europe to impose such a ban, saying it is incompatible with French ideals of equality.

May 4: Portugal/European Union

The European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approve $116 billion bailout for Portugal. Under the deal, Portugal has agreed to cut its deficit to 3 percent by 2013 and implement severe austerity measures, including spending cuts and increase in sales tax on some items. Portugal is the third country after Greece and Ireland to ask the EU and IMF for help to deal with its budget deficit.

May 25: Switzerland/Germany

Switzerland decides to phase out its nuclear power due to the strong public opposition to the industry following the tragic events of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Currently, about 40 percent of the country’s energy depends on nuclear power. (May 30): Germany is the next European country announcing its plan to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022. Instead, Germany is planning on investing heavily in renewable energy.

May 26: Serbia

A former Bosnian Serb military leader, General Ratko Mladic, who has been accused of committing war crimes during the Yugoslav war in 1990s, is arrested in northern Serbia, where he was hiding for the last 16 years. Mladic faces charges over the Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed. He is expected to be extradited to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The Mladic arrest removes one of the conditions for Serbia to obtain candidate status in the European Union.

June 12: Turkey

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wins a decisive victory in the country’s parliamentary election. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who presided over strong economic growth of the past years, will serve a third term. AKP, however, comes short of the two thirds majority needed to amend the constitution without agreements from opposition parties. The current constitution was drafted 30 years ago by a military government and Prime Minister Erdogan is pushing for changes.

June 14: Italy

Italians vote against four government proposals in a referendum, which is seen as a major blow to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s policies. The proposals included restarting nuclear power generation, water privatization, and immunity from trial for government ministers. Prompted by the results, the opposition is calling for Berlusconi to resign.

June 25: Spain

Hundreds of protesters in Spain march from across the country toward the capital, Madrid, expressing their frustration with the country’s poor state of economy and tough austerity measures, the implementation of which started last year. The recession has left the country with an unemployment rate reaching 23 percent. This number is even higher among the people under the age of 30. Unlike Portugal and Greece, however, Spain did not need a bailout.

June 26: United Kingdom

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrives in the United Kingdom to promote more trade between Britain and China. China is also interested in diversifying their foreign reserves holdings by purchasing government bonds in other currencies such as the euro. Before coming to Britain, Prime Minister Wen stopped in Hungary, where he agreed to purchase a certain amount of the Hungarian debt in government bonds.

June 28: Greece

Greece holds a 48-hour general strike, while tens of thousands of protesters march on parliament in the capital, Athens, to oppose the legislators’ efforts to pass new austerity measures. Prime Minister George Papandreou says that if the $25 billion plan is not passed, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not grant Greece the loans, and the country will default on its debts. The people are angry over the proposals such as a new tax on minimum wage earners and rising unemployment, reaching 16 percent.

July 20: Serbia

Serbian authorities arrest Croatian Serb Goran Hadzic wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Hadzic, the last remaining fugitive war crimes suspect, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is held responsible for the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of non-Serbs. For Serbia, his arrest opens the way for accession talks with the European Union.

July 28: Kosovo

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) deploys peacekeepers to northern Kosovo in response to the violence caused by ethnic Serbs after the Kosovo police attempted to impose control over the border with Serbia. The Serbs in Kosovo do not accept Kosovo’s independence.

August 12: Italy

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announces a plan to balance Italy’s budget. The move involves $64 billion in spending cuts and imposing new taxes. The European Union welcomes the plan, but the Italy’s main union rejects it and calls for strikes.

August 16: Germany/France/European Union

After a meeting in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy call for closer economic policy between the eurozone countries. To increase tax revenue, they propose to harmonize corporate tax rates. They also suggest that the requirement of balancing budgets should be included in each member state’s constitution by mid-2012. They reject, however, the idea of issuing the eurobonds, promoted by the Italian finance minister, who argues that they would provide cheap financing to struggling economies.

August 24: Ukraine

Thousands of demonstrators in Ukraine come out into the streets to protest the trial and detention of Yulia Tymoshenko, former Prime Minister and one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution. Tymoshenko is accused of abuse of office by making an illegal deal with a Russian gas company while in office. Her supporters, however, say the charges are politically motivated.

August 31: Portugal

The Portuguese government plans to implement drastic spending cuts agreed during the bailout negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, aiming at reducing the country’s debt. The cuts will be the biggest in 50 years. The public continues to protest the cuts.

September 6: Turkey

Turkey suspends its defense ties with Israel, including military cooperation, after Israel refused to apologize for the 2010 killing of nine Turkish humanitarian activists during a raid on a ship going to the Gaza Strip. Earlier this month, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador.

September 7: Italy/Spain

The Italian parliament approves new austerity measures worth $74 billion, with a pledge to balance the budget by 2013. Tens of thousands of protesters pour into the streets to oppose the move, which includes higher sales and wealth taxes. The Spanish parliament agrees to add “a golden rule” to the constitution, which sets the size of future budget deficits.

September 22: Greece

Greece is hit by a 24-hour general strike in protest over the government debate to approve the next stage of austerity measures, which are necessary in order to receive the next installment of more than $10 billion of the bailout loan through the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). By 2015, the Greek government is supposed to raise $66 billion through a mass privatization program.

September 29: Germany

The German parliament agrees to expand the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to $1 trillion. The EFSF has been created to bailout the eurozone economies in crisis. Germany’s contribution to the fund is going to be the largest, amounting to almost $280 billion.

October 1: Bulgaria

About 2,000 Bulgarians take part in protests against the Roma minority population, who they link to corruption and organized crime. The unrest started several weeks ago after a teenager was ran over and killed by a car driven by relatives of a Roma headman. The Roma minority constitutes about 5 percent of Bulgaria’s population.

October 10: Poland

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk wins a second term in office after his Civic Platform party takes 39 percent of the votes in the parliamentary elections, becoming the first party to win two successive terms since the fall of communism. Donald Tusk’s popularity is attributed to Poland’s strong economic growth when other European Union’s economies have been struggling with recession.

October 27: European Union

Leaders of the eurozone countries reach an agreement to tackle the region’s debt crisis. Banks that hold Greece’s debt will accept a 50 percent loss, thus reducing the country’s debt to 120 percent of its GDP by 2020. The eurozone bailout fund is going to be increased to $1.4 trillion, and banks will be obligated to raise more capital. The announcement of the deal boosted the euro and shares on European markets.

November 7: France

In an effort to reduce budget deficit and protect its perfect credit rating, France announces additional $9.6 billion budget cuts on top of the previously assigned $12 billion. The measures will include pension reform, such as raising the retirement age, and increasing corporate and VAT taxes. The goal is to reduce the public deficit to zero.

November 8: Germany/Russia

The controversial Nord Stream pipeline project is officially opened during a ceremony in Germany. The natural gas pipeline, which will carry natural gas from the Russian region of Siberia to Europe under the Baltic Sea, bypasses Ukraine and Poland, and has been a politically sensitive issue.

November 11: Greece

Greece swears in its new national unity government, with Lucas Papademos, a former head of the Bank of Greece, as interim prime minister. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned after strong criticism over his referendum plan on the eurozone rescue package. Papademos’s most important tasks are to push through further austerity measures to secure the EU bailout for Greece, keep the country in the eurozone, and avoid bankruptcy.

December 6: Belgium

Belgium swears in a new government, ending a political deadlock lasting a record of 541 days. A six-party coalition will be headed by French-speaking Socialist Elio di Rupo. The deadlock was caused by disputes over budget, immigration, and distribution rights between the French-speaking and Flemish groups.

December 16: Italy

The Italian parliament approves Prime Minister Mario Monti’s $43 billion package of austerity measures, which includes tax increases, spending cuts, and pension reforms. The move aims at balancing the country’s budget by 2013. Mario Monti took over as interim prime minister after Silvio Berlusconi was criticized for handling a worsening national debt crisis and was forced to step down. He will stay in office until new elections in 2012.

December 18: Czech Republic

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel dies at age 75. Havel was the opposition leader who led to the overthrow of communism in then-Czechoslovakia in1989, the event that became known as the Velvet Revolution. After the breakup of Czechoslovakia, he became the president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

December 28: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s leaders reach an agreement on the formation of the central government after 14 months of political deadlock. Deep divisions between the country’s Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian political leaders were the reason that Bosnia had no government since the general elections in 2010. As a result of the agreement, the post of the prime minister will go to a Bosnian Croat while the post of the foreign minister will go to a Bosnian Muslim. The parties also agree on a budget.

December 30: Spain

Spain’s new conservative government led by Mariano Rajoy announces the first stage of new austerity measures of $21.5 billion, aiming at reducing the public deficit. The cuts will be implemented in 2012, and they will include employment and wage freezes in public sector jobs and raising taxes on wealthiest citizens. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in Europe, reaching 21 percent.