Be A Voice: #Europe 2017 - 40 Important Things That Happened Last Year

By Charlotte Spencer-Smith, Campaign Agent

As we enter 2018, let's take a look back at the things that happened in Europe in 2017. If you’re not a fan of populism or Vladimir Putin, you’re not going to love this...


Albania #Polarisation #EdiRama #EU #Election

In parliamentary elections in June, the Socialist Party won a majority sufficient to rule without a coalition. Plagued by political instability and corruption, Albania could nonetheless start talks to join the EU next year. Watch: “Albania's socialists take full control of parliament”, Al Jazeera, 26 June 2017

Austria #populism #SebastianKurz #FPOE #Election

At only 31, the leader of the Austrian People’s Party became Europe’s youngest premier after elections in October. In coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, Sebastian Kurz plans to implement an agenda that is harder on immigration and benefits in 2018. Read: The Guardian view on the Austrian elections: an old threat in a new guise, 16 October 2017

Belarus #Zapad2017 #Russia

“Europe’s last dictatorship”. Alexander Lukashenko has been President of Belarus since 1994, which unsettled its Baltic NATO neighbours by carrying out a large military exercise with Russia on Belarusian soil last September. Read: Darko Janjevic, “What Are Russia’s Zapad War Games?”, Deutsche Welle, 14 September 2017

Belgium #Passchendaele100 #Ypres1917 #WW1

While Belgium has enjoyed a blessedly unremarkable year, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele reminds us that Europe was devastated by war only relatively recently in its history. An estimated half a million men were killed, wounded or missing in just over three months. Watch: Dan Snow on Passchendaele, The Royal British Legion, 24 July 2017

Bosnia & Herzegovina #SlobodanPraljak #WarCrimes #RatkoMladic

The “Butcher of Bosnia”, Serb nationalist, Ratko Mladic, was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in the early 1990s. The same international court also witnessed the suicide of Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak, opening wounds in a nation still divided by ethnicity. Listen: BBC World Service, 16 November 2017

Bulgaria #BoykoBorissov #BulgariaIn30Facts #Election

After resigning at the end of last year, the pro-EU centre-right prime minister, Boyko Borissov, took the position again in May, this time in coalition with the far-right United Patriots. Preparing for assuming the EU Presidency this year, Bulgaria has been tweeting #BulgariaIn30Facts, which some Bulgarians have hijacked to slip in some facts of their own. Read: Frank Beauchamp, Bulgaria’s EU Presidency: Normalizing Nationalism?, Social Europe, 27 November 2017

Croatia #Agrokor #Todoric #Sperbank

Multibillion-dollar debt at Croatia’s largest private business, the food group Agrokor, threatened the Balkan economy, prompting the Croatian government to take over its administration in April and opening a criminal investigation into its owners. The crisis exposes mistrust in business practices and the connections between business and politicians in Croatia. Read: Zoran Radosavljevic, “The Supermarket That Shook Croatia”, Politico, 5 April 2017

Republic of Cyprus #FBME #FBMEBank #MoneyLaundering #Russia

While reunification talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriot negotiators failed in the summer, a list of names of wealthy people who have benefited from Cyprus’ citizenship-by-investment scheme leaked. The biggest Cypriot story of the year is likely to unravel in 2018 though, as the FBI implicates FBME bank in investigations into links between Trump and the Kremlin. Read: Tom Warren & Alex Campbell, “Revealed: The Secrets Of One Of The World's Dirtiest Banks And Its Powerful Western Protectors”, Buzzfeed News, 13 December 2017

Czech Republic #Babis #Babisconi #Populism #EU #Election

The second richest man in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, became Prime Minister despite being charged with fraudulently claiming an EU subsidy. The pro-EU, anti-immigration politician’s young party has upended the Czech establishment, and will face the new year with the European Commission taking the country to court for refusing to accept asylum seekers. Read: Robert Anderson, “The Czech Trump shoots for power: the rise and rise of Andrej Babiš”, New Statesman, 21 October 2017

Denmark #KimWall #WomenJournalists #SafetyOfJournalists

While fewer journalists were murdered worldwide in 2017 than in previous years, the total included a higher percentage of women, among them the appalling murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall in Denmark while reporting on Danish inventor, Peter Madsen. Her death also highlighted the dangers faced by the growing number of freelance journalists. Check out: Kim Wall Memorial Fund on Go Fund Me

Estonia #NATO #eFP #EnhancedForwardPresence #Russia

Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, NATO placed troops in four Eastern European countries, including 800 British and 300 French troops in Estonia, to be joined by Danish troops in 2018. The Enhanced Forward Presence is the closest NATO bases have ever been to Russian territory. Read: Amanda Lapo & Monty d’Inverno, NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence: reassurance and deterrence, IISS, 20 February 2017

Finland #Finland100 #Suomi100

It’s easy to forget that Finland started life as an independent nation only 100 years ago, mired in poverty and civil war. In its centenary year, Finland found that it is not immune to larger political forces in Europe as it experienced its first terror attack and a hardliner was picked to lead the country’s nationalist party, prompting the Prime Minister to remove them from the coalition. Listen: Finland at 100, BBC Radio 4, 27 November 2017

France #Macron #EnMarche #Election

Centrist liberal Emmanuel Macron became President, seeing off Marine Le Pen in an electoral run-off in May. Although his centrist, third way party En Marche was only set up in 2016, Macron had previously been a member of the Socialist Party and served as Minister of Economy and Finance. Listen: The Guardian, Orbiting Jupiter: my week with Emmanuel Macron – podcast, 3 November 2017

Germany #Merkel #AfD #FDP #Election

The debate over immigration weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel and strengthened the far-right Alternative für Deutschland in September elections. A first round of coalition talks with the Greens and the Free Democratic Party failed, and by Christmas Merkel’s Union was still in talks with the Social Democrats. Read: Stefan Kornelius, “Angela Merkel Has Everything Except a Legacy”, Foreign Policy, 14 September 2017

Greece #GreeceCrisis #Tsipras #Debt #Bonds #Moria #Lesvos

The Greek sovereign debt crisis started to show signs of improvement as the government issued bonds and agreed its last austerity bailout budget. The crisis in Greece’s refugee camps, however, continues with Moria, the largest site, housing up to 6,000 refugees. Listen: BBC World Service, “Greece: On the Road to Recovery?”, 12 December 2017

Hungary #CentralEuropeanUniversity #Orban #GeorgeSoros

Central European University faced legal limbo and possible closure after the Hungarian parliament introduced strict new regulations on overseas universities. The law is part of a dispute between the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, and the university’s founder, financier George Soros. Read: Benjamin Soskis, “George Soros and the Demonization of Philanthropy”, The Atlantic, 5 December 2017

Iceland #KatrinJakobsdottir #BjarniBenediktsson #Scandal #Election

Left-Green party politician Katrin Jakobsdottir became Prime Minister following elections in October, which ere called by centre-right Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson after his coalition collapsed following a scandal involving his father. The Guardian revealed that Benediktsson sold the majority of his assets in a bank’s investment fund hours before the government took over the financial sector in the crisis of 2008. Read: The Economist, “Iceland’s voters stick with the establishment”, 30 October 2017

Ireland #Varadkar #FineGael

Liberal-conservative Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) following a Fine Gael leadership election after Enda Kenny stepped down from the post. A crisis involving police whistleblowing threatened to dissolve Varadkar’s new government until his deputy resigned in November. Watch: Deutsche Welle, “Leo Varadkar: Young, gay and conservative”, 3 June 2017

Italy #Berlusconi #ForzaItalia #Populism

Silvio Berlusconi made a comeback in politics as the centre-right coalition, which includes his party Forza Italia, won regional elections in Sicily in November. Berlusconi is currently banned from public office, but hopes to have the ban overturned by the European Court of Human Rights before national elections in 2018. Watch: VICE, “Inside Italy's Silvio Berlusconi”, 24 April 2017

Kosovo #RamushHaradinaj #Serbia

Ramush Haradinaj from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) became Prime Minister of a coalition government following snap elections in June. Haradinaj has previously been acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and was removed from an Interpol arrest warrant in December. Read: Maja Zivanovic, “Prospect of Haradinaj Running Kosovo Divides Serbia”, Balkan Insight, 8 September 2017

Latvia #GlobalLaundromat #MoneyLaundering #Russia

Latvian bank Trasta Komercbanka was implicated in a major money laundering scheme involving funds from Russia, dubbed the “laundromat” scheme. The revelation is not the first accusation of money laundering in Latvia and may be connected to investigations of Russia’s influence in the 2016 US election campaign. Read: Eriks Selga, “A Latvian Sock in the Laundromat? The Fight against Money Laundering”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 28 April 2017

Lithuania #NATO #eFP #EnhancedForwardPresence #Russia

Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and in the year that Russia conducted the Zapad 2017 military exercise in Belarus, the Lithuanian Defence Minister expressed worries that Russia was spreading propaganda to undermine an independent Lithuanian state. Lithuania was the first country to receive over 1,000 European troops as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence deployment. Watch: Al Jazeera, “Waiting For Invasion”, 15 February 2017

Luxembourg #AsteroidMining #SpaceMining

Luxembourg became the first European country to introduce a space privatisation law allowing private companies to keep resources mined on asteroids. Similar US legislation requires companies to have majority US capital; the new law in Luxembourg does not impose nationality-related restrictions, making it attractive to space-faring startups. Read: Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, “How a tax haven is leading the race to privatise space”, The Guardian, 15 September 2017

Macedonia #Zaev #FYROM #EU #NATO

Beleaguered by a long-running political crisis, Macedonia formed a government in May, five months after elections in December 2016. The new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has eased relations with Greece, hoping to pave the way towards NATO and EU accession talks. Read: Valerie Hopkins, “Change of guard atop ‘disastrous’ Balkan state”, Politico, 27 July 2017

Malta #DaphneCaruanaGalizia #PanamaPapers #MaltaFiles #Corruption

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in a car bomb attack in October. Caruana Galizia ran a blog in which she accused the Maltese government of large-scale corruption, including claims collected from the Panama Papers. Listen: BBC World Service, “Daphne and the Two Maltas”, 14 December 2017

Moldova #IgorDodon #NATO #Russia

Tensions flared between the pro-Russian President and the pro-European government as NATO opened an office in the capital of the non-NATO country. The constitutional court temporarily suspended President Igor Dodon’s powers after he refused to swear in the proposed Defence Minister. Read: The Economist, “The dismal politics of one of Europe’s smallest nations”, 7 November 2017

Montenegro #NATO #Russia #Djukanovic

Montenegro joined NATO, less than 20 years after the organisation bombed targets within Montenegro when it was still part of Serbia. Pro-Russian MPs boycotted the vote to ratify accession, but the government hopes membership will prepare the country to join the EU. Read: Glen Johnson, “Tiny Montenegro is about to become part of NATO. Here's what you need to know”, LA Times, 5 June 2017

Norway #Election #Tysfjord

Centre-right Prime Minister Erna Solberg hung on to her position in national elections in September, but will only be able to start coalition negotiations in 2018. Norwegian police opened investigations 151 claims of sexual abuse in a small community in Lapland. Read: Tom Stevens, “Best way forward or missed opportunity? Norwegians react to the general election”, The Guardian, 12 September 2017

Netherlands #MarkRutte #VVD #GeertWilders #PVV #Election #Populism

In March, the centre-right Freedom and Democracy Party won the most seats in national elections, making leader Mark Rutte Prime Minister. Although this prevented Geert Wilder’s far-right Party for Freedom from gaining power, Rutte used a similar appeal to Dutch nationalism to gain the support of the public. Watch: Al Jazeera, “Geert Wilders concedes defeat in Dutch elections”, 15 March 2017

Poland #EU #Article7 #FreeCourts

The European Commission triggered a process to formally warn Poland against infringing on fundamental rights by weakening the independence of the judiciary. This summer, Poland’s parliament passed a law enabling the government to control judicial appointments. Watch: Deutsche Welle, “The end of judicial independence in Poland?”, 21 July 2017

Portugal #ClimateChange #Wildfires #ECHR

Children from the Leiria region of Portugal crowdfunded £35,000 to bring a case against major European greenhouse gas emitters in the European Court of Human Rights. In 2017, Leiria was affected by the worst forest fires in Portugal’s history, killing over 60 people. Watch: Global Legal Action Network, “Children -v- Governments of Europe & Climate Change”, 19 October 2017

Romania #Corruption #Protests #RuleOfLaw

In February, protests forced the new government was forced to repeal legislation that would have reclassified crimes of corruption involving sums of less than £38,000 as a less serious offence. Despite the repeal and a change of Prime Minister, Romanians were disappointed by a new bill in December, which would give the government more power over corruption prosecutors. Read: Caroline Holmund, “2017: Romania’s Year of Corruption?”, 27 December 2017

Serbia #AnaBrnabic #AleksandarVucic #EU

In the year that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia finished its mandate, former nationalist hardliner Aleksandar Vucic left his post as Prime Minister after winning presidential elections in April. Vucic appointed Ana Brnabic in his stead, Serbia’s first woman and first openly gay Prime Minister, at a time when Serbia hopes to make progress in EU accession talks. Read: Patrick Wintour, “Ana Brnabić: 'I do not want to be branded Serbia's gay PM'”, The Guardian, 28 July 2017

Slovakia #Corruption #RobertKalinak

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák survived an attempted vote of no confidence, despite being accused of connections to a businessman under investigation for tax fraud. Earlier in the year, 5,000 people demonstrated in Bratislava against corruption, calling for Kaliňák’s dismissal. Read: Emily Tamkin, “They Spent Months Protesting Corruption. Now What?” Foreign Policy, 29 September 2017

Slovenia #MiroCerar #AhmadShamieh #AsylumSeekers #Refugees

An opposition party announced plans to seek the impeachment of Prime Minister Miro Cerar for alleged interference with the judiciary in relation to his support for Ahmad Shamieh, a Syrian asylum seeker who is due to be deported to Croatia. As 2017 drew to a close, the asylum case was referred back a court back to the Ministry of the Interior for review. Read: Katja Lihtenvalner, “Political tensions in Slovenia mount over case of Syrian refugee”, Middle East Eye, 10 December 2017

Spain #CatalanReferendum #CarlesPuigdemont #MarianoRajoy

In an October referendum, citizens in Catalonia voted to become an independent state. However, the Spanish constitutional court ruled the referendum illegal and demonstrations were violently put down by the Spanish government. Watch: Vox, “Catalonia’s independence movement, explained”, 3 November 2017

Sweden #DataProtection #DataBreach #Scandal #GDPR

Two government ministers were dismissed after a data protection scandal was exposed by a national newspaper. In 2015, the handling of motorists’ data was outsourced to IBM, which had the work done in Eastern Europe by staff without the necessary Swedish security clearances. Read: The Guardian, “The Guardian view on a Swedish scandal: the precedence of privacy”, 31 July 2017

Switzerland #EU

Switzerland agreed to pay over €1bn into EU cohesion funds over the next ten years in return for favourable market access. However, Switzerland was angered when the EU restricted stock exchange equivalence between Switzerland and the EU to one year. Read: Mehreen Khan, “EU sparks Swiss anger with temporary market access deal”, Financial Times, 21 December 2017

Ukraine #Donbass #Russia #MikhailSaakashvili

The war in the Donbass claimed over 380 lives despite multiple failed ceasefires, the year ending in a prisoner swap between the Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels. Former Georgian President turned Governor of Odessa Mikhail Saakashvili was arrested under organised crime charges following a feud with President Petro Poroshenko. Watch: Al Jazeera, “Eastern Ukraine: Enduring the suffering of war”, 8 April 2017

United Kingdom #TheresaMay #JeremyCorbyn #Brexit #EU #Election

The British Conservative Party won snap elections in June, but lost significant ground to the Labour Party, weakening Prime Minister Theresa May. The UK began Brexit negotiations with the EU. Despite a significant mismatch in expectations between the two sides, the EU agreed sufficient progress had been made to move on to trade talks in 2018. Listen: Radio 5 Live, Brexitcast

Further reading:

Image: Roman Boed @Flickr

N.B. this article was edited on 08/01/2017 to add Moldova, changing the total from 39 to 40.