News Timeline: Europe 2014


January 1 – Latvia/European Union

Latvia adopts the euro, the European Union’s common currency, becoming the 18th member of the eurozone.  After strong recovery from the recession, Latvia currently has the fastest growing economy within the EU.

January 19 – Ukraine

Renewed widespread violent and deadly protests erupt in Ukraine in response to the government’s passage of a law that bans unauthorized tents in public areas and criminalizes blocking public buildings and slandering government officials. (January 30): The government announces amnesty for detainees under the condition that the opposition will end protests. However, the opposition, which has been occupying key government buildings, dismisses the offer.

February 9 – Switzerland

In a national referendum, the Swiss voters narrowly approve bringing back strict quotas on immigration from the European Union. Supporters say foreign migrants lower salaries and put pressure on the country’s social infrastructure, such as education and health care. Opponents argue that migrants bring high skills, contributing to the country’s economic success. The EU says the outcome of the referendum is against the EU-Swiss agreement on freedom of movement.

February 11 – Cyprus

The leaders of Greek Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus resume talks on possible reunification of the island. The last negotiations broke off in mid-2012, when Cyprus took over the European Union’s rotating presidency that lasts six months.

February 20 – Ukraine

At least 77 people are killed in clashes between the protesters and police in Ukraine’s city of Kiev, making it the worst day in months of anti-government demonstrations. Police are accused of using live ammunition against unarmed protesters. The protests escalate, with the opposition seizing government buildings in several cities. (February 21): Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych signs a deal with the opposition brokered by an EU and Russian mediators in an attempt to end the crisis. Agreement stipulates that a unity government will be formed and a presidential election will be held by the end of the year. The parliament votes to reduce presidential powers and release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail. (February 22): President Yanukovych flees the capital and hundreds of people enter the grounds of his official residence. The opposition takes control of the country with the parliament Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president. (February 26): Pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters clash in Ukraine’s Crimea region, where ethnic Russians constitute a majority. (February 27): Pro-Russian gunmen seize two government buildings in Crimea’s capital of Simferopol and place and raise Russian flags on them. Russia performs military exercises in the region, with the United States warning it of any military intervention.

March 16 – Ukraine/Russia

More than 97 percent of people in the Ukrainian region of Crimea vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a controversial referendum organized by Russia with Russian troops controlling the area. Many Crimeans who oppose the secession boycotted the vote. Ukraine, the European Union and the United States say the vote is illegal and it will be never recognized. (March 17): The EU and the U.S. impose travel ban and freeze assets of some high-ranking Russian and Ukrainian officials after the Crimean vote. (March 21): Russia officially annexes Crimea. Ukraine and the EU sign an association agreement, establishing closer economic relations. (March 27): The United Nations General Assembly adopts a resolution, which says that the referendum in Crimea was illegal. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approves a loan for Ukraine in the amount of $18 billion. Also, the United States Congress passes  legislation guaranteeing a $1 billion loan for Ukraine.

April 1 – Greece

The Eurozone countries sign off another installment of the financial bailout for Greece after the Greek parliament has passed further austerity measures, which include layoffs of another 11,000 public sector employees and opening their retail sector to competition. In response, the people stage a national strike; since 2010 there were at least 3 dozens of such protests. Greece has been in recession for the last 6 consecutive years, with unemployment in 2013 exceeding 27 percent. Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio amounted to 175 percent in 2013, compared to the average 92 percent of all Eurozone members.

April 6 – Hungary

Controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wins a second term after his center-right Fidesz Party gathers 45 percent of the vote in the country’s parliamentary elections, which gives it again a two-third majority in the parliament. The Hungarian opposition and the European Union have criticized Orban for the constitutional changes, which, they say, undermine the independence of the judiciary and media, as well as limit civil liberties and free speech. Twenty percent of the vote goes to the radical nationalists of the Jobbik party.

April 8 – Spain

The Spanish parliament rejects a request by the region of Catalonia to hold a referendum on its independence from Spain by saying the country’s constitution allows voting for secession only if held nationally, not just by a region. Despite this, the Catalan President Artur Mas says the region will hold a referendum anyway, which is planned for November this year. Catalonia, with its capital in Barcelona and more than seven million citizens, is one of Spain’s most developed and industrialized regions and a popular tourist destination.

April 24 – Ukraine/Russia

Russia sends troops to its western border with Ukraine and orders military exercises, increasing tensions in already volatile situation. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine overrun government buildings in several cities and place Russian flags on them. The United States sends a first contingent of about 500 troops to Poland for military exercises as part of the NATO security guarantees. (April 29): Pro-Russian separatists seize the regional government building and prosecutor’s office in the eastern city of Luhansk, opening fire at the local police station. There is fear of escalating tensions that might lead to a civil war. (April 30): The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approves a $17 billion bailout for Ukraine under strict conditions of economic reforms.

May 11 – Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declare independence after referendums. The European Union, the United States, and the Ukrainian government say they will not recognize the outcome. Russia has mobilized tens of thousands of troops on its western border with Ukraine. (May 25): Ukrainian businessman and a billionaire Petro Poroshenko wins the country’s presidential elections on the promises to resolve the crisis and bring peace to Ukraine.

May 14 – Turkey

Angry crowds of demonstrators in Turkey protest the country’s worst ever mine disaster in western town of Soma, which killed at least 301 miners. People blame the government for poor safety regulations and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is also criticized for insensitive comments, while trying to defend the Turkish government. But Turkey’s mine safety record is bleak; since 2000, Turkey has suffered more than 1,300 fatal accidents in the mining industry.

May 25 – European Union

The European Union members conclude elections to the European Parliament (EP) during which they elected 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent their interests over the next five years. The turnout was 43.1 percent, slightly higher than in previous elections. The European People’s Party (EEP) – the group of center-right Christian Democrats – won the most votes getting 221 seats followed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 191 seats. Additionally, far-left, eurosceptic conservative, and nationalist right-wing factions gained ground at the expense of more centrist groups and those promoting European integration. The EP is the only directly elected EU body that represents 500 million citizens in 28 states. The EP plays a key role in electing the President of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, and shares powers over EU budget and legislation with the Council of the European Union.

June 4 – Poland

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski awards the country’s first annual Solidarity Prize of 1 million euros, which was set up to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its first partly democratic elections since WWII. The prize is designed to honor individuals who fight for democracy and human rights. The recipient of the first award is Mustafa Dzhemilev, leader of Crimea’s Tatar minority who dedicated his life to defending the rights of his people.

June 4 – Poland/Ukraine

The United States President Barack Obama meets with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Poland’s transition to democracy. While in Poland, he also meets with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and pledges $5 million in military aid in support of Ukraine’s fight with rebels who want to split the country. He also reaffirms the NATO principles of collective defense and announces a $1 billion plan of the European Reassurance Initiative to strengthen defenses in Europe. On his part, President Komorowski pledges an increase in military spending to 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

June 16 – Ukraine/Russia

Russia cuts off gas supplies to Ukraine, saying it failed to settle its debt. Russia says Ukraine owes $4.5 billion. This is another step in tense relations between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine says it has enough reserves to last until December. (June 24): Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shoot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing all nine people on board. (June 27): Ukraine signs a partnership agreement with the European Union, the deal strongly opposed by Russia and the one that has been at the heart of the recent conflict between the two sides. Previous President Viktor Yanukovych was pressed by Russia not to sign it and was then overthrown through popular protests.

June 18 – Spain

King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicates in favor of his son, Felipe VI, after reighing for 40 years. The 76-year old King helped transition Spain to democracy after the death of dictator General Franco in 1975 who ruled the country for 36 years. Spain is now a parliamentary monarchy with the king as head of state who carries out mostly ceremonial duties.

July 5 – Ukraine/Russia

Ukrainian government troops take over the stronghold of the separatists, the town of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine. The fighters flee to the regional capital of Donetsk. Russia is accused of continuing arming the insurgents and sending Russian citizens to help the separatists. Russian government denies the claims. (July 14): Ukrainian separatists shoot down a military transport aircraft. The Ukrainian government accuses Russia of supplying the rebels with missiles. (July 17): Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam is shot down in eastern Ukraine, in the area held by the separatists, killing all 298 passengers and the crew.  It is believed that the rebels hit the plane with a Russian-supplied missile, mistaking it for a Ukrainian military plane. (July 30): The United States and the European Union announce new sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the Ukrainian crisis. New sanctions target Russian intelligence officials, as well as oil, defense, and energy sectors. The United Nations reports that at least 1,129 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine in mid-April.

July 14 – Great Britain

Despite deep divisions on the issue, the Synod of the Church of England votes to allow women to become bishops. The vote comes 20 years after the women were allowed to become priests. The vote signifies a ground-breaking cultural change.

August 7 – Ukraine/Russia/EU

In response to economic sanctions for its support of Ukrainian separatists, Russia imposes a one-year embargo on meat, fish and agricultural products from the European Union countries, Norway, the United States, Canada, and Australia. The European Union, in its response to Russia’s embargo, makes an announcement that it will compensate those EU farmers who get hit by Russia’s embargo. The EU’s biggest exporters of agricultural products to Russia are Poland and Lithuania. Russia’s embargo has already had a negative effect on its own market, with rising prices and shortages of many basic foods, such as pork. (August 22): A convoy of dozens of Russian trucks enters Ukraine without permission. Russia says trucks carry humanitarian aid, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accuses Russia of moving troops and weapons into Ukraine to support the rebels. (August 28): NATO releases satellite images that show Russian troops and military equipment within Ukraine’s borders.

August 28 – Turkey

After serving three terms as prime minister, Recap Tayyip Erdogan becomes Turkey’s president after winning the first publicly-held presidential election. The country’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is elected as head of the governing AK Party and is set to become the country’s next prime minister.

August 30 – EU/Poland/Italy

The European Union leaders choose Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini to be the EU’s new European Council President and Foreign Policy Chief respectively. They will work closely with the new European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. These are three top jobs in the structures of the EU. Tusk is the first leader from a former Soviet bloc country to hold such a high-level position in the EU.

September 5 – Ukraine

The Ukrainian government and the separatists from eastern Ukraine agree to a ceasefire in a deal signed in Belarus and backed by Russia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he will support greater autonomy for eastern regions, but will not agree to split the territory. The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic responds that the rebels will not consider staying within the borders of today’s Ukraine.

September 19 – United Kingdom

In a referendum on independence in Scotland, 55 percent of people vote to stay within the United Kingdom. UK Prime Minister David Cameron says that people in England, Scotland, and Wales should receive more powers over their affairs, such as taxation and spending.

September 27 – Turkey

 The U.S.-led coalition air strikes IS targets near the besieged northern Syrian town of Kobane on the border with Turkey, helping Kurdish fighters push back the militants. Tens of thousands of Kobane civilians flee the town for Turkey. Kobane is a strategic place, which would give the militants control over a long stretch of Syrian territory alongside the Turkish border. Under pressure from other countries and its own Kurdish population, Turkey opens its border for Syrian Kurds fleeing the violence around Kobane. Since 2011, when the fighting against the Syrian government began, Turkey has accepted about 850,000 refugees from Syria.

October 14 – Russia

Russia and China sign about 40 agreements that range from energy, finance, to aviation and tourism. Russia seeks closer cooperation with China as a result of Europe’s sanctions imposed on it due to the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

October 20 – Turkey

Turkey announces that it will allow Iraqi Kurdish forces to cross its border on the way to the Syrian town of Kobane in order to help the Syrian Kurds fight Islamic State (IS) militants. Kobane has been under siege for six weeks. The United States-led coalition drops weapons, ammunition and medical supplies over Kobane and steps up air strikes on militants.

October 26 – Ukraine

Ukraine holds parliamentary elections, in which more than three-quarters of voters support pro-Western and pro-reform parties, with President Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc and the People’s Front receiving the most votes. For the first time since Ukraine’s 1991 independence, Communists receive no parliamentary representation. The Party of Regions that used to dominate Ukraine’s political landscape next to communists (it won 30 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections) and supported the deposed President Viktor Yanukovych decided not to participate in this election. Some individual members of the Party of Regions run as candidates of the Opposition Bloc. No voting takes place in the areas held by the separatists in eastern Ukraine neither in Crimea, which was recently annexed by Russia. The separatists say they will hold their own election in November.

October 30 – Ukraine

Despite a ceasefire signed in September, separatists in eastern Ukraine, with its key stronghold in Donetsk, continue fighting with the pro-government troops. One of the fiercest battles is for the Donetsk Airport.

October 31 – Ukraine/Russia

Russia and Ukraine agree on a deal brokered by the European Union to resume gas supplies to Ukraine over the coming winter season. Supplies were cut off due to Ukraine’s unpaid gas debt. The agreement also ensures uninterrupted supplies of gas to Europe via Ukraine pipelines.

November 2 – Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine hold elections independently from Kiev. The elections are denounced as illegitimate by Ukraine as well as the European Union and the United States. For its part, Russia recognizes the elections. According to the Minsk ceasefire conditions agreed with Russia, the separatist regions are supposed to hold local elections under Ukrainian law in December.

November 9 – Spain

Eighty percent of voters in Spain’s north-eastern autonomous region of Catalonia approve the region’s independence from Spain in a non-binding self-determination referendum. The Spanish government fiercely opposes a formal vote on this issue and the constitutional court ruled that a formal referendum would be illegal.

November 12 – Russia

Russia will build several nuclear reactors in Iran, which might ease Iran’s demands to enrich its own uranium it claims it needs for its civilian nuclear program. The stipulation is that Russia will supply nuclear fuel for the reactors and retrieve the spent fuel back to Russia for re-processing. This will ensure that Iran does not use the fuel to build nuclear weapons.

November 17 – Romania

Mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, Klaus Iohannis, who is also an ethnic German, wins a surprising victory in Romania’s presidential election run-off. He defeats Prime Minister Victor Ponta who was leading after the first round of voting. Iohannis, who has been reelected four times as mayor, ran his campaign on an anti-corruption platform. As president, he will have to work with Ponta’s Social Democratic party that has majority in the parliament.

November 30 – Moldova

In Moldova’s parliamentary elections, three pro-EU parties win together 44 percent of the vote and get majority of seats in parliament; however, a previously small pro-Russian Socialist Party, with 21 percent of vote, becomes the largest single party in the parliament. The election poses a significant setback for the communists who receive only 18 percent of the vote and face a reduction of parliamentary seats from 31 to 21.

December 23 – Ukraine

Ukraine’s parliament overwhelmingly votes to drop the country’s non-alignment status and actively seek membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Ukraine adopted the non-alignment status in 2010 under pressure from Russia. Russia condemns Ukraine’s move and sees Ukraine’s NATO membership as a threat to its national security. December 27: Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian government exchange hundreds of captives. The United Nations reports that the situation in the east is extremely dire for the population, with many on the brink of survival. By the end of November, the total number of casualties in the east had reached at least 4,364 killed and more than 10,000 wounded.