January 15 – United Kingdom / European Union
The UK Parliament rejects Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit proposal in a record defeat 432 votes to 202, bringing the deal to an impasse. Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29. MPs remain divided over Brexit conditions with some asking for a further referendum, others wanting a closer relationship with the EU, and those who think May’s deal was leaving the UK tied too closely to EU rules. Some MPs want the Prime Minister to negotiate alternative arrangements to the controversial Northern Irish backstop – the plan to avoid any return to physical border checks between Northern Ireland (that is part of the UK) and Ireland. This would require the UK to remain in the customs arrangements with the EU until a different solution could be found, but some MPs argue this would violate the UK’s sovereignty. Prime Minister May wants to reopen the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU, but the European Union negotiators say they will not renegotiate the plan.
January 25 – Macedonia / Greece
New name for Macedonia
The Greek parliament narrowly approves its neighboring country’s name as Republic of Northern Macedonia, or Northern Macedonia in short (formerly known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). The move has been controversial in Greece as it has cultural ramifications. One of Greece’s regions, that includes the birthplace of Alexander the Great, is also called Macedonia. Greece’s final approval concludes 27 years of a dispute over the name between the two countries and puts Northern Macedonia on the path to memberships in NATO and the European Union, which until now was blocked by Greece.
February 1 – Russia
Suspension of the INF Treaty
The United States formally suspends the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), an arms control agreement signed between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, and then its successor state the Russian Federation. The Trump Administration accuses Russia of violating the deal and threatens to withdraw completely unless Moscow complies with its terms within 180 days. Russia denies the accusations.
The INF Treaty required destruction of the Parties’ ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment within three years after the Treaty entered into force. By 1991, a total of 2,692 missiles were eliminated after the Treaty’s entry-into-force by both sides.
(Feb 2): Following the U.S. decision, Russia says it will also withdraw from the INF Treaty within the next six months. On the same day, Russia’s military announces it has carried out a successful test of a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile, a system designed to carry thermonuclear warheads. The withdrawal from the INF Treaty raises concerns about a renewed arms race between the U.S. and Russia.
More about impacts of abandoning the nuclear disarmament
February 3 – Vatican
Pope’s visit to the Arabian Peninsula
Pope Francis arrives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the first ever visit of a leader of the Roman Catholic Church to the Arabian Peninsula. He is greeted by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. During this historic visit, the pontiff takes part in an interfaith conference and holds a mass attended by tens of thousands of people, mostly migrant workers from such countries as the Philippines, South America, and India. Through his visit the Pope hopes to open a dialogue about tolerance, and peaceful coexistence of different cultures. Although the UAE is more tolerant that other Muslim countries in the Gulf region and guarantees freedom of worship in its constitution, it also has strict laws against proselytizing by non-Muslims. Blasphemy and converting from Islam are strictly prohibited and those who do face harsh punishments, potentially including the death penalty.
February 4 – European Union
EU and Venezuela
Some European countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and France officially recognize the leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the interim president of Venezuela after President Nicolas Maduro rejected their calls for a snap election. Guaidó says the constitution allows him to take over the leadership of the country temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate. Under Maduro, Venezuela has been in serious economic crisis, with severe shortages of basic everyday necessities and inflation reaching 1,300,000 percent in 2018.
Venezuela’s crisis in nine charts
February 6 – North Macedonia
Macedonia enters NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) signs an accession agreement with Macedonia, making it the 30th member of this intergovernmental military alliance. This could happen only after Greece approved Macedonia’s new name, Republic of North Macedonia. Before Macedonia becomes officially a member, however, each NATO member will have to ratify the accession agreement.
March 12 – United Kingdom / European Union
The UK House of Commons, for the second time, overwhelmingly rejects Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan, the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union (EU).
(Mar 13): The House rejects the plan of leaving the EU without a deal, so-called no-deal Brexit. This, however, only applies to the 29 March deadline and does not rule out the prospect of a no-deal exit at a later date, if Parliament is unable to agree on any deal.
(Mar 14): UK lawmakers vote to delay the Brexit process, acknowledging that more time is needed to come up with an agreement over Britain’s departure from the EU. Any delay beyond March 29th, however, will require unanimous approval from the remaining 27 EU member states. The MPs also overwhelmingly reject a call for a second referendum.
(Mar 21): The European Council gives the UK an extension until May 22 to prepare for a withdrawal from the EU, if the third vote in the UK’s Parliament succeeds. If it fails, however, the EU will allow the UK government to come up with a new Brexit plan by April 12. They also say there will be no further extension beyond 30 June.
(Mar 29): MPs defeat May’s withdrawal agreement for the third time. By holding a vote on the withdrawal agreement only, the government had hoped to secure a short delay to Brexit and avoid the UK taking part in the European elections scheduled for May. Prime Minister Theresa May will now seek a longer extension to the negotiation process to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
(Apr 11): During a summit in Brussels, the European Union agrees to extend the deadline for Brexit by six months until October 31. The agreement averts the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, but it also means that the UK has to hold elections to the European Parliament in May and there would be no renegotiations of the withdrawal agreement with the EU.
April 21 – Ukraine
In a second round of presidential elections in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky defeats current President Petro Poroshenko in a landslide victory gathering more than 73 percent of the votes with a turnout of more than 62 percent. Poroshenko conceded showing an orderly democratic and peaceful transfer of power in a country that was once part of the Soviet empire. Zelensky has no previous experience in politics and is best known for his satirical TV show, Servant of the People, where the main character accidentally becomes president. He ran his election on the platform of a party of the same name as his TV series. Zelensky vows to cleanup the country’s corruption and weaken the power of the oligarchs in Ukraine. His main challenges are rocky relations with Russia, continued tensions in Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014, which Ukraine never recognized, and the difficult situation in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are fighting the Ukrainian government demanding closer relations with Russia.
What Zelensky’s TV show might say about how he will govern the country
May 23-26 – European Union
Elections to the EU Parliament
Twenty-eight European Union member-countries (with about 517 million people) are voting to elect 751 representatives to the European Parliament. The traditional center-left and center-right parties (the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the European People’s Party (EPP)) that dominated the European Parliament from its beginnings suffered significant losses; however, they will still remain the two largest blocs. The parties that gained parliamentary seats are the Greens (environmentalists), pro-EU liberals, nationalist Eurosceptic parties (promoting more power for national parliaments) and the anti-immigration Far Right parties. These results point to an overall anti-establishment trends. With a greater representation, these smaller blocs will have more influence in decision-making. Overall turnout was the highest in 20 years.
European Election 2019: Results in maps and charts
June 11 – Russia
Curtailing freedom of press
The Russian authorities free journalist Ivan Golunov after street protests and a massive public outcry against his arrest. To show their support, Russia’s three main newspapers published, “We are Ivan Golunov”, on their front pages. Golunov, a freelance investigative reporter focusing on corruption in Russia, was arrested on drug possession charges. His lawyers and press freedom activists claim, however, that the drugs have been planted in order to silence him.
Background: In March of this year, the Russian parliament passed two bills that affect the press and journalists in Russia. One made “disrespecting” of the state, its authorities and the society illegal, while the other prohibits “false information of public interest, shared under the guise of fake news.” Both offenses carry heavy fines and repeat offenders face long-term imprisonment. The critics of the bills say these legislations will silence journalists critical of the government. According to Freedom House, Russia has “not free” status for its media with a score of 83 out of 100, where 0=Most Free and 100=Least Free.
July 2 – European Union
New leadership in the EU
The European Parliament confirms the selection of Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen for the European Union’s top job. She is the first woman to take the job of the European Commission president. She will replace Jean-Claude Juncker on November 1. The Commission drafts EU laws, enforces EU rules and has the power to impose fines on member states. The nominees for other EU top jobs include Christine Lagarde from France to become head of the European Central Bank, Charles Michel from Belgium for European Council President, Josep Borrell from Spain for EU foreign policy chief, and David-Maria Sassoli from Italy to become President of the European Parliament.
July 24 – United Kingdom
New Prime Minister
UK Prime Minister Theresa May steps down after her failure to secure an exit from the European Union and losing her Cabinet’s support. At the same time, former London Mayor, former British Foreign Secretary, and a controversial and provocative politician, Boris Johnson, becomes new prime minister after winning the country’s Conservative Party leadership. He inherits a deeply divided Parliament caused by the Brexit vote. If he is unable to negotiate a new exit deal with the European Union, he vows to exit Britain with no deal by the new deadline of October 31. It is believed that no-deal exit would be seriously damaging to the UK’s economy.
About Boris Johnson
July 25 – Europe
Migration and immigration
About 115 migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea during an attempt to cross it from the coast of Libya to Europe. The Italian coast guards were able to save 132 migrants. Although the number of migrant journeys has declined dramatically since 2017, still thousands attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe on flimsy boats every year, with Libya being the main departure point. The decline is due to the deal made by Italy with Libya to stop migrants from leaving the Libyan coast. Also, the Italian coast guards return the migrants found at sea back to Libya. The UN refugee agency reports that this was the deadliest shipwreck in the Mediterranean so far in 2019, with 164 migrants losing their lives in the first four months of 2019. These migrants come mostly from Africa and the Middle East.
Migration to Europe in charts
July 27 – Russia
Over a thousand protesters demanding fair elections who took to the streets despite rallies being officially unauthorized are arrested. The main opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days a few days earlier after calling for Saturday’s unapproved demonstration. People are protesting the authorities’ decision to exclude about 30 opposition and independent candidates from taking part in local elections scheduled for September 8. Ratings of both President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party have plummeted and are at a record low.
August 2 – Russia
Th INF Treaty
The United States officially withdraws from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) accusing Russia of violating the treaty. The INF Treaty, which banned missiles with ranges between 310-3,400 miles, was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Both the United States and NATO claim they have evidence that Russia has deployed a new type of cruise missile. The collapse of the agreement raises fears of a new arms race between the U.S., Russia, and China. The most important agreement of the old Cold War years – the New Start Treaty – that limits long-range nuclear weapons is set to expire in February 2021.
Chart of estimated global nuclear warheads arsenals
August 29 – Europe
Measles disease on the rise
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the measles disease is on the rise with four European countries, Albania, Czechia, Greece and the United Kingdom, losing their status of being free of measles. Countries are considered measles-free when there is no transmission for 12 months. In total, 49 of the 53 countries in Europe reported over 160 000 measles cases and over 100 measles-related deaths between 1 January 2018 and 30 May 2019. Compared to 2016, when only 13 cases were reported, this represents a dramatic resurgence of this highly contagious and potentially fatal illness. The United States has also seen a spike in measles cases, with 1,234 cases in 31 states between January 1 and August 29, 2019, the highest number in 25 years. The majority of these cases are among people who were not vaccinated against measles. Worldwide, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine are suffering the largest outbreaks of measles. The disease can be prevented through two doses of the MMR vaccine. Misinformation and lies about the vaccine, and in some countries lack of access to vaccines, is blamed for the spikes in cases of this serious disease.
What are vaccines, how do they work and why are people skeptical?
September 9 – United Kingdom / Ireland
The New IRA
Gasoline bombs and missiles are thrown at police in the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland during a security raid operation targeting dissident republicans group called the New IRA. The police search comes after finding a mortar bomb in the city of Strabane, 14 miles outside Londonderry.
Background: The IRA was disbanded as part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The New IRA, however, is a violent paramilitary group based in Belfast formed of dissident Republicans who reject Northern Ireland’s peace process. As the IRA, this group also seeks to liberate Northern Ireland from the British and reunite it with the Republic of Ireland. Most people in Northern Ireland, however, are committed to the peace process and do not support this group.
October 6 – Turkey / Russia
U.S. military withdrawal from Syria and Turkey’s incursion into Syria
The United States President Donald Trump orders American troops (about 1,000) to withdraw from northeastern Syria. The move is controversial and seen as a betrayal of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that consists mostly of the Kurdish fighters, and draws condemnation even from the President’s Republican allies. The Kurds have been key US allies in fighting the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria; they also guard thousands of IS fighters in prisons and camps in areas under their control and it is unclear whether they will be able to have them detained. It is feared that the destabilization of northern Syria could lead to jihadist resurgence. It is also feared that the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria clears the way for Turkey to invade the area.
(Oct 9): Turkey’s military launches an offensive on Kurdish–held areas in northeastern Syria. According to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the operation is intended to create a “safe zone”, a buffer clear of Kurdish fighters regarded by Turkey as terrorists due to their ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. Turkey plans to repopulate the zone with about two million Syrian refugees that fled to Turkey as a result of the Syrian civil war. The offensive is condemned by many countries around the world.
(Oct 16): The U.S. House of Representatives passes a joint resolution to rebuke President Trump’s decision to pull out the U.S. troops from Syria. It also calls for President Erdogan to cease military operations against Kurdish-led forces in Syria. As a result of the incursion, 300,000 civilians are displaced and 120 civilian killed in 11 days.
(Oct 22): Turkey and Russia make a pact according to which Russian and Syrian forces will oversee the Kurdish pullback from the border area about 20 miles deep and 260 miles along the Turkish border. After that Russian and Turkish militaries will patrol the area. The pact cements Turkey’s annexation of a significant part of Kurdish-held land in Syria where in the past few years they created a self-governing sub-region called Rojava. It also cements Russia’s status as the main power broker in the region.
Turkey vs Syria’s Kurds
October 14 – Spain
Spain’s Supreme Court hands down lengthy prison sentences to nine Catalonian leaders and pro-independence activists for their role in the 2017 Catalonia referendum on independence from Spain. They were charged with sedition and misuse of public funds. Spain also issues a new arrest warrant for former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont who fled to Belgium in 2017. The former vice-president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, who got the longest sentence of 13 years, criticizes the decision of putting people in jail for their political ideals and says this will make the Catalonians even more determined to become independent from Spain. Large crowds protest the verdict by marching in Barcelona and engaging in violent clashes with police in some places.
Catalonia crisis in 300 words
October 17: United Kingdom / European Union
The United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaches a revised agreement with the European Commission on Brexit. The deal still has to be approved by the Parliament. The main change in the proposal is about the Northern Ireland, which would be aligned to the EU single market with the controversial “backstop” removed. It would remain a part of the UK’s customs territory, but also an entry point into the EU’s customs zone. The UK would not apply tariffs to products entering Northern Ireland as long as they are not destined for onward transportation across the border. Every four years, the Northern Ireland Assembly would vote on whether it wants to continue this trading arrangement.
(Oct 19): In a big defeat for PM Johnson, the Parliament votes for an amendment delaying approval of the deal until the legislation to implement it is in place. The supporters of the bill say it will ensure there is no-deal exit. This also obligates the prime minister to ask the EU for an extension to Brexit deadline.
(Oct 28): In response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s letter of request, the EU grants the UK a Brexit extension until January 31, 2020. This means that despite Johnson’s repeated vows he would take the UK out of the EU on October 31, even without a deal, the Parliament prevented him from doing so, and forced him to accept the extension.
Why does the UK have to pay the EU £39 billion?
December 12 – United Kingdom
Politics: snap election
Voters in the United Kingdom go to the polls to elect a new parliament. In a deadlock over Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a snap election hoping to regain a parliamentary majority for his Conservative Party. And the Conservative Party (Tories) scores a big victory, handing Boris Johnson a clear mandate to take Britain out the European Union. The Tories win an additional 47 seats reaching a total majority of 365 (out of 650 seats total), while their rival Labour Party looses 59 seats down to 203 total. Voter turnout reached 67.3 percent. Another winner of the election is the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), which gains additional 13 seats to a total of 48. Its leader calls for another referendum on Scotland’s independence. In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), supporters of the Conservatives in parliament, suffer a significant defeat. As a result, Nationalist MPs now outnumber unionists in Northern Ireland. With the Conservatives’ win it is expected that the Brexit bill will pass in the parliament paving the way for the UK leaving the EU on January 31.
Brexit: What happens now?