Economic crisis, tensions spell chaotic year for Europe

Gripped by economic woes, refugee crisis, terrorism and war on its eastern front, 2015 has largely been year of chaos for Europe

Photo by: TRTWorld
Photo by: TRTWorld

Updated Jan 1, 2016

Within the first week of 2015, an attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the heart of Paris marked the beginning of a series of tragic incidents to hit France this year.

Meanwhile, the conflict in eastern Ukraine between government troops and pro-Russian rebels raised tensions in Europe to its worst levels since the end of the Cold War.

In fact, the very purpose of the EU was put into question following Prime Minister David Cameron’s triumph in the UK elections in May, opening the way for him to set up a referendum on his country’s membership to the bloc.

Another issue threatening to divide the EU was the Greek economic crisis, which saw Greece narrowly avoid a default from the eurozone.

But nothing produced headlines in Europe more than the refugee crisis which has left hundreds of thousands of refugees in limbo.

France attacks

On Jan. 7, gunmen killed 12 people in a raid on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. The attack was allegedly in revenge for the magazine publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed.

Two brothers, Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, carried out the attack. They were killed two days later in a shootout with the police after taking hostages.

Their friend, Amedy Coulibaly, was killed in a separate raid after taking hostages in a kosher supermarket on the same day.

Another attack by DAESH terrorists in Paris killed 130 people on Nov. 13, which led to France declaring a state of emergency.

Some attackers were killed in suicide bombings, while ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and other suspects were killed in a police raid on Nov. 18.

Although Muslims condemned the attacks, Islamophobic incidents shot up across Europe.

Ukraine ceasefire

In February, Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany signed the Minsk 2 agreement to end almost a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

An uneasy ceasefire came into effect between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatist rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) took charge of overseeing the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontlines. Both sides agreed to exchange prisoners and work towards a new Ukrainian constitution.

However, violent scenes were also seen in Kiev, where Ukrainian nationalist groups clashed with police over constitutional reforms that grant more power to rebel-held regions.

In June, the EU also extended sanctions on Russia to pressure Moscow to back off from its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

UK elections

UK, in May, held one of its most crucial elections in recent history. Held in an atmosphere of growing euroscepticism and Scottish nationalism, Britons went to the polls to decide the future of the country.

By the end of voting, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives secured a majority in the parliament, with a clear victory over the main opposition Labour Party.

The coalition government’s junior partner, Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, suffered a drop from 57 seats to just eight.

Despite coming in third with 12.9 percent of the votes, Nigel Farage’s eurosceptic UKIP, only secured one seat in parliament.

The Scottish National Party capitalised on Labour losses, gaining 54 out of the 59 seats in Scotland.

Following his victory, Prime Minister Cameron embarked on a tour of Europe to campaign for EU reforms.

Cameron also pushed forward the EU referendum bill, pledging to organise a referendum on the UK’s EU membership before the end of 2017.

Greek political instability

The Greek political landscape was left in chaos as the country held two elections in 2015.

Alexis Tsipras was elected prime minister in Jan. 26, taking the battle to Europe over crippling austerity.

Tsipras decided to let the Greek people decide their future by holding a referendum on whether or not to welcome the terms of an EU bailout. The referendum was held on July 5.

Greeks rejected the plan, voting “NO.” However, Tsipras agreed to unpopular bailout reforms on July 13. As a result, rallies were held and violence broke out in the centre of Athens.

Tsipras resigned on Aug. 27 in the face of a rebellion within his left-wing SYRIZA party.

After calling for snap elections, Tsipras was re-elected on Sept. 20, where he re-established a coalition government with the right-wing anti-austerity party, Independent Greeks.

Refugee crisis

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been heading to Europe to look for a better life, escape poverty and persecution in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Around a million have asked for asylum in Europe this year and over 936,000 have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe. Over 3,600 refugees have drowned trying to make it.

To ease the burden on southern European countries, the Dublin agreements were suspended, allowing refugees to apply for asylum in EU countries, alongside the ones they first arrived in.

In April, EU leaders also decided to step up operations in the Mediterranean under the EUNAVFOR MED operation to destroy vessels used by traffickers to smuggle refugees.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees have been left stranded at border checkpoints as authorities in the Balkans set up fences to keep them out.

The crisis has led to the tightening of controls in the Schengen area, putting the freedom of movement in Europe under threat.