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Europe’s political evolution under a year of war


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There is no denying that Russia’s war against Ukraine has overshadowed political developments in Europe in 2022 as the policies of the countries are shaped by the conflict.

But, a fair number of crucial events occurred across the continent during the year, which also witnessed Brits bid farewell to “Long Live The Queen” and Greece and the European Parliament hit by scandals, with these proving to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Russia launches Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II

Though Moscow and Kyiv have been at odds since the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, few were expecting war to return to Europe when Russia declared its “special military operation” on Feb. 24 to “denazify” and “demilitarize” its neighbor.

Turning into the largest and most complex confrontation since World War II, the conflict not only increased the volatility in the region, but also left economies and energy markets reeling, triggered a huge migration wave of 7.9 million, and — most importantly — became a major threat to international security.

The signal for the war was given by the Kremlin three days earlier on Feb. 21, when Russia recognized Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Plugging its ears to worldwide condemnations, Moscow was keen to pour its ground troops into Ukraine from northern Belarus toward Kyiv, as well as the northeast toward Kharkiv, the south from Crimea, and the southeast from Luhansk and Donetsk.

While these offensives were followed by Ukrainian counter-offensives in the war zone, the economic front of the conflict was similarly perilous as Western sanctions were met by Russian counter-sanctions in the hopes of using financial pressure to end the fighting.

Throughout, European nations acknowledged the importance of NATO as most sought to stand united against Russia.

The sanctions against Moscow targeted individuals, banks, businesses, monetary exchanges, bank transfers, exports, and imports. Cutting major Russian banks off from the international SWIFT payment system, freezing Russian Central Bank assets and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, barring the sale of Russian gold reserves, and banning oil imports from Russia were among penalties imposed by the EU, UK, and US to financially damage the Kremlin. These efforts continue with the latest EU-agreed ninth sanctions package against Russia.

Dozens of corporations, including Unilever, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Hermes, Chanel, and Prada, also ceased operations in Russia, though some later decided to change their brand names to continue their presence in the country.

Russia responded by playing on Europe’s gas dependence on it as winter was approaching. Gas prices surged when Russian energy company Gazprom announced an indefinite halt to natural gas shipments to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after it was closed for three days of repairs.

To cope, European countries took measures to ensure they could get past winter by reducing energy used on heating, dimming Christmas lights, and urging residents to save through individual practices.

The Kremlin also blocked grain from being exported from Ukraine, causing global food prices to surge.

The International Monetary Fund warned that the Russia-Ukraine war posed a substantial economic risk regionally and internationally and offered help to the countries affected, as well as a loan package for Ukraine.

The war dragged European countries to the brink of recession even as they were trying to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The increase in inflation and cost of living triggered strikes in many sectors, including airport workers, nurses and doctors, railway staff, postal workers, and truck drivers, across the continent in the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, and Austria.

Sweden, Finland apply for NATO membership

The war also pushed Sweden and Finland to apply to be NATO members in fear that they would be the next target of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since 1994, both countries have been part of the Partnership for Peace and carried out joint exercises with NATO but were among six European nations that are not members of the North Atlantic alliance.

They formally applied to join in May, however, Türkiye voiced objections to their membership bids, criticizing them for tolerating and even supporting terror groups.

A trilateral memorandum at a NATO summit signed among the countries in June stipulates that Finland and Sweden will not provide support to the PKK and YPG, the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, or to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) — the group behind the 2016 defeated coup in Türkiye.

In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the US, and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.

The countries need to obtain the approval of all NATO allies to become a member by ratification and so far 28 of 30 ratifications have been completed, with only Hungary and Türkiye remaining.

Türkiye brokers Black Sea grain deal

To unblock grain exports and stave off a possible food crisis, Türkiye took the role of mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

Ankara, the UN, Moscow, and Kyiv signed a deal on July 22 to resume grain exports from the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Yuzhny, Chornomorsk, and Odesa, which were halted due to the war.

A Joint Coordination Center with officials from the three countries and the UN was set up in Istanbul to oversee the shipments.

So far, more than 15 million tons of Ukrainian grain have been shipped on 585 ships since the first grain-loaded vessel left Odesa on Aug. 1.

End of 7 decades: The Queen dies

An era closed in the land where the sun never sets as Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, died “peacefully” at the age of 96 on Sept. 8.

Her final public appearance was during her Platinum Jubilee celebration in June. She had to cancel engagements on her doctor’s advice due to mobility and health issues for the past 12 months because of her old age.

World leaders, dignitaries, and citizens mourned Elizabeth’s death and millions watched her funeral live on television as the monarch left behind 70 years on the British throne.

Then-Princess Elizabeth succeeded her father George VI at the age of 25 in 1952.

‘A fighter, not a quitter!’ motto fails in 44 days

The ignominious exit of Liz Truss on Oct. 20, only the third woman to hold the highest office in British government, etched her name in history following her mini-budget disaster.

Truss’ tumultuous 44-day tenure ranks as the shortest-lived leadership in British history — undesirable for a politician touting her tenacity as “a fighter, not a quitter!”

Her 45% tax cut for high earners and 1% for people with lower incomes, which was one of the main policies of the mini-budget, gave the wrong signals amid a shaky economy and caused the British pound to crash to its lowest levels. The Bank of England had to intervene twice to keep balance and stabilize markets.

In an ultimately futile attempt to undo the damage, she threw her number one ally and finance chief Kwasi Kwarteng under the bus and offered apologies to lawmakers and the public.

Truss may have been elected as Conservative leader with 81,326 votes from party members, but by the time the curtain came down on her brief stint, 55% of the same party members wanted her gone.

Far-right coup plot failed in Germany

The largest police operation against extremists in the history of Germany ended on Dec. 8 with the arrest of 25 suspects, including a group of far-right figures and ex-military officers, for planning attacks to create nationwide chaos and seize power.

The majority of suspects were followers of the far-right Reichsburger (Reich Citizens) movement. They formed a terror group last year to overthrow the democratic, constitutional system in Germany, according to prosecutors. Heinrich Reuss, also known as Prince Heinrich XIII, the descendant of a noble family, was the leading figure in the group and, together with former German military officer Rudiger von P., planned a military coup to achieve a “system change” in the country.

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a former lawmaker of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), was also among the suspects. She was to be justice minister under the coup regime, according to authorities.

The country has witnessed growing racism and xenophobia in recent years fueled by propaganda from far-right, antisemitic, and anti-Muslim groups, including the main opposition party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Corruption scandal rocks European Parliament

Eva Kaili, a Greek Member of the European Parliament (MEP), was at the center of one of the EU’s biggest corruption scandals, accused of being paid by Qatar to lobby for the Gulf state’s interests.

Kaili was arrested Dec. 9 by Belgian police after her home was searched on corruption charges allegedly linked to Qatar. She was subsequently removed from the European Parliament’s vice presidency and dismissed from the PASOK-KINAL party over the allegations.

Qatar dismissed the “baseless and gravely misinformed” allegations, “categorically rejecting any attempts to associate it with accusations of misconduct.”

A Belgian court recently decided to extend Kaili’s pre-trial detention by one month.

To restore calm, the EU’s foreign policy chief vowed “zero tolerance” against corruption, while Hungary urged a restructuring of the legislative chamber, saying “the swamp should be drained.”

Greek surveillance scandal ‘bigger than US Watergate’

As the European Parliament rapporteur Sophie in’t Veld said, Greece was hit by a surveillance scandal that is “bigger than the US Watergate.”

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged that opposition politician Nikos Androulakis was wiretapped by the intelligence agency but denied knowledge of the operation on Aug. 8. The scandal first emerged Aug. 4, when Panagiotis Kontoleon, then-head of the National Intelligence Service (EYP), told a parliamentary committee that the intelligence agency had been spying on financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis.

On Aug. 5, Kontoleon, along with the general secretary of the prime minister’s office, Grigoris Dimitriadis, resigned, with a parliamentary probe launched after Androulakis complained to top prosecutors about an attempt to hack his phone with spyware known as Predator.

Previously, the Documento newspaper published on Nov. 6 a list of 33 people allegedly spied on by the EYP on the direct orders of Dimitriadis, including Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolaos Chardalias, Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis, Labor Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, former Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, and former National Security Adviser Alexandros Diakopoulos.

The newspaper alleged on Dec. 3 that the EYP, which directly operates under Mitsotakis, also wiretapped Gen. Konstantinos Floros, Chief of Land Forces Charalambos Lalousis, and General Director of Defense Investments and Armaments Thodoris Lagios.

Opposition parties have been blaming Mitsotakis for the scandal and have called on his government to hold snap elections, a demand he refuses.

Italy elects first woman prime minister, far-right Giorgia Meloni

“I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a Christian,” was the main slogan at electoral rallies by Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy and the undisputed winner of the last Italian elections dragging the center-right block to the top of the ranks. Meloni also became the first female premier in the history of Italy.

Though the far-right has never been extinct in Italy, Meloni is seen as a very controversial figure with her Eurosceptic, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric along with her party’s fascist roots, even though she is trying to position herself at the center.

Her language has changed, maintaining a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in the national rhetoric, while also displaying a certain amount of westernization when it comes to global matters.

Tensions escalate between Kosovo-Serbia over vehicle license plates

Tensions flared last month when Kosovo attempted to require ethnic Serbs to change their vehicle license plates that date before 1999 to Pristina-issued plates. The decision led ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to withdraw from all central and local institutions.

A snap election was announced in four northern municipalities for Dec. 18 after ethnic Serb representatives resigned from their posts. But, Kosovo has postponed elections until April over security concerns.

Brussels has been working to facilitate dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to ease tensions and resolve bilateral issues. In an EU-brokered agreement late last month, the two nations agreed to avoid further escalation concerning the dispute involving car license plates and “fully concentrate on the proposal on normalization of their relations.”

Croatia enters Schengen, Bulgaria, Romania stuck at red light

It was clear that Croatia will get the nod for its bid to join the passport-free Schengen area, as doorstep speeches ahead of an EU meeting hinted as much on Dec. 8.

While Croatia’s accession was approved and will be part of the area in January, the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen was vetoed by the Netherlands and Austria.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev urged the Netherlands and Austria not to go against the interests of their businesses as they were the largest investors in Bulgaria.

For the enlargement of Schengen, unanimity is required among member states.

Elections knock on doors in more than a dozen countries

Eleven European countries headed to the polls in 2022, with some witnessing lengthy delays in forming their new government and others a surge in the popularity of the far-right.

Malta’s Labour Party, which has ruled the Mediterranean island since 2013, secured its third straight victory with Robert Abela staying on as prime minister on March 26.

On April 3, Aleksandar Vucic was re-elected president in Serbia, while Hungary re-elected Viktor Orban, who has been in power since 2010, as prime minister. Weeks later, Emmanuel Macron won a second term as president of France on April 24.

In Sweden, however, the Nordic country’s right-wing election winners could only manage to form their coalition government more than a month after the ballot on Sept. 11. Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderate Party, took office as prime minister.

Another far-right coalition gained power Sept. 25 in Italy as Meloni became the first woman to serve as prime minister.

Three more elections were held Oct. 2, but one ended in uncertainty.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniak Denis Becirovic, Serb Zeljka Cvijanovic, and Croat Zeljko Komsic were elected new members of the Balkan nation’s presidential council, while in Latvia, Krisjanis Karins was re-elected as prime minister.

However, in Bulgaria, a government is still yet to be formed even though former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB party won the elections.

On Oct. 23, independent candidate Natasa Prix Musar won the second round of the presidential vote in Slovenia and became the first woman to serve as president.

Lastly, for the first time in 44 years, parties from the right and left came together to form a coalition government in Denmark on Nov. 1.

Source : Anadolu Agency

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