January 3: Hungary
Tens of thousands of people protest Hungary’s series of controversial laws, which a part of the new constitution pushed through the parliament by the ruling Fidesz party, which has two-thirds majority in parliament. The opponents say that these laws threaten democracy and accuse Prime Minister Viktor Orban of authoritarianism. It is feared that the new changes to the constitution undermine the independence of the judiciary and the central bank, while redrawn constituency boundaries give advantage to the ruling party. (January 17): The European Union opens legal action against Hungary over the new laws and gives Prime Minister Orban a month to address its concerns.
January 23: European Union
The European Union adopts an oil embargo on Iran, a new step over the country’s controversial nuclear program. The embargo bans new oil contracts with the country and freezes assets of Iran’s central bank in the European Union.
February 13: Greece
The Greek parliament approves a new tough austerity measure package in order to qualify for the next installment of the EU and IMF bailout amounting to $170 billion. The austerity measures include cuts of thousands of public jobs and pensions, scrapping bonuses, further cuts in government spending, and making labor market more flexible, including lowering the minimum wage by 20 percent. Tens of thousands of people protest the move across the country. (February 15): The Greek parliament passes a law allowing the debt write-down with private creditors, who will be asked to write off more than 50 percent of the Greek debt.
February 19: United Kingdom/France
Iran announces that it is halting oil exports to Great Britain and France in response to an earlier decision by the European Union (EU) to impose an embargo on imports of Iranian crude as of July 1. The EU’s embargo is meant to put pressure on Iran to stop enriching uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons. Both Great Britain and France import only a fraction of their foreign oil from Iran.
March 1: Serbia/European Union
The European Union (EU) grants Serbia candidate status in its attempts to become an EU member. The decision was prompted by Serbia’s concession on Kosovo and other efforts in democratic reforms. Other candidate countries are Turkey, Macedonia, Iceland, and Montenegro. Croatia is scheduled to become the EU member in mid-2013.
March 2: European Union
In response to the recent financial crisis, twenty-five European Union (EU) members approve the fiscal compact, a new treaty aiming at enforcing budget deficit rules. The United Kingdom and the Czech Republic have opted out of the treaty. The deal must be approved by either national parliaments or referendums. The new treaty stipulates that the countries within the eurozone will be able to check each other’s budgets and the European Court of Justice will have the right to impose fines on the members deviating from the rules.
May 6: Greece
Greece’s parliamentary election results in power struggle between pro- and anti-austerity measures. Two-thirds of the Greek electorate voted for parties opposed to international bailouts from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, renewing fears that Greece might default on its debt and be forced out of the eurozone. Antonis Samaras, the leader of the conservative New Democracy Party, which gained the most votes, says he is unable to form a coalition government. President Papoulias calls new elections for June. The uncertainty of the country’s future in the eurozone has led many Greeks to withdraw their money, over $1 billion, from Greek banks.
May 7: France
Socialist Francois Hollande defeats center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s presidential election. The angered electorate votes unpopular Sarkozy out of office over his tough austerity measure policies triggered by the eurozone crisis. Hollande has promised to refocus the policies from austerity to growth by raising taxes on the rich and corporations, raising a minimum wage, hiring more teachers, and lowering the retirement age for some. He also wants to withdraw the French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year earlier than previously scheduled.
May 20: Serbia
Serbian nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic defeats liberal incumbent President Boris Tadic in the country’s presidential election. Nikolic, who comes from old political structures serving under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, promises to continue Serbia’s course toward the EU membership. His Progressive Party also wins the most seats in parliamentary elections, although the coalition of Democrats and Socialist still holds the majority. Serbia has been struggling with a poor economy, a 24 percent unemployment rate, and corruption.
June 9: European Union
The eurozone finance ministers agree to provide Spain with a loan up to $123 billion to help its struggling banks. It is not a bailout, which involves painful austerity measures, as in case of Greece, Portugal, or Ireland, but a loan on favorable conditions. The funds will go straight to the banks, and they will also be used to buy bonds of this country. The eurozone leaders also agree to a plan to build more integrated eurozone, leading to a fiscal union in the future. They also unveil a plan to create a European treasury with powers over national budgets.
June 17: Greece
Greece’s pro-bailout New Democracy party wins the most votes in the country’s parliamentary elections but without a majority. The party advocates keeping the bailout, but asks for more time to restructure the economy in such a way that would promote the growth. The left-wing radical Syriza party comes second. Syriza’s leaders call for canceling the bailout, nationalizing banks, but staying in the eurozone. The European Union’s leaders say that if Greece rejects the bailout, it may have to be forced out of the euro. (June 20): New Democracy’s leader, Antonis Samaras, becomes Greece’s prime minister and assembles a coalition with third-placed socialist Pasok party and other smaller parties. The coalition plans to pursue the austerity measures, but wants the bailout conditions to be revised. Samara is Greece’s fourth prime minister in the last eight months. (June 21): Greece officially asks the EU to renegotiate its EU and IMF bailout conditions without jeopardizing, however, its membership in the euro.
June 27: United Kingdom
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom concludes her two-day visit in Northern Ireland with a historic first-time handshake with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, who is now Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister. It happens during an event organized by a group called Cooperation Ireland, promoting cooperation among Northern Ireland’s communities.
July 3: Ukraine
The Ukrainian parliament passes a controversial law drafted by President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions that grants the Russian language the status of an official language in Ukraine. In the east of the country, with its large Russian-speaking population, Russian becomes the regional language. The move sparks protests that the decision dilutes Ukraine’s sovereignty.
August 29: Ukraine
Ukraine’s Supreme Court rejects Former Prime Minister YuliaTymoshenko’s appeal to overturn her conviction. An opponent of current President Viktor Yanukovych, Tymoshenko was imprisoned for seven years over the gas deal signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a move seen by many as politically-motivated. The imprisonment has soured relations between Ukraine and the European Union.
October 8: European Union
The eurozone countries of the European Union launch a permanent fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) with a lending capacity of $650 billion, which will be able to bail out stressed economies and banks. It will come into effect as of 2014. The fund will be chaired by Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, and its biggest provider will be Germany, contributing 27 percent of the total fund.
October 15: United Kingdom
Great Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, agree on terms for a Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, which is scheduled to take place in the fall of 2014.
October 29: Ukraine
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych’s governing Party of Regions wins a decisive victory in parliamentary elections. The European election observers criticize the election, saying that government resources were used to boost the chances of the governing party. Yulia Tymoshenko’s party comes second. The other parties with a significant percentage of votes are the Communists, who are allied with the Party of Regions, and the far-right Svoboda party with a surprising high 10 percent of the vote.
December 3: Slovenia
Slovenian former Prime Minister Borut Pahor wins presidential election, defeating incumbent Danilo Turk by a wide margin. The low turnout shows the voters’ disenchantment with the political elites accused of rampant corruption and an inability to fix the country’s economy hit hard by the recession. Thousands protest against harsh austerity measures in the country’s two biggest cities, Ljubljana and Maribor.
December 10: European Union
On behalf of the European Union, European Council President Herman van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and European Parliament President Martin Schultz collect the Nobel Peace Prize during the celebrations in Oslo, Norway. The $1.2 million prize is said to benefit children in need.
December 11: United Kingdom
The 2011 census conducted in the United Kingdom reveals London as ethnically diverse, where only 48 percent of inhabitants are white, a change from 58 percent in 2001. Thirty-seven percent of Londoners were born outside the UK and 24 percent are non-UK nationals.