We review the most relevant events of the past decade in Europe as 2019 comes to an end.
As the decade ends, teleSUR looks back to the ten most important events that have shaped the lives of millions across the region.
One of the most concerning trends that have hit not only the United States and many other South American countries, the last decade has seen numerous parties from the ultra-right gaining momentum and in some cases, winning elections, like Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary, Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), or Italy’s former Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party became the driving eurosceptic force until the recent elections, and recently-elect Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom.
Although the surge of nationalism everywhere has been tied to the “migrant crisis” and the growing rejection of immigrants fleeing from poverty and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East for the most part, it is no coincidence that the decade has also been marked by growing inequality and poverty, as the economic austerity pursued by European governments had fostered fear, racism and the emergence of the far-right.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the average income rose more slowly than during these last ten years since the Napoleonic wars. A million more children with working parents entered poverty. The number of homeless people more than doubled, while the average life expectancy stopped rising for the first time after a constant improvement during the past century.
Darker times may be still ahead for Europe. In May 2019, the U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide Adama Dieng warned that a new class of nationalist leaders in Europe was redolent of the 1930s when the Nazis rose to power and urged Europe’s center-left to do more to oppose a resurgence of xenophobia.
Around 2015, partly as a result of the wars staged by Western countries in the Middle East and in Africa, hundreds of thousands of refugees have tried to reach Europe through a perilous trip.
Nonetheless, with the rare exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, European countries have all adopted an openly inhumane policy consisting of refusing rescue boats of charities shipping authorizations to their ports with hundreds of children, women, and men starving on board.
Domestically, bans against the Muslim veil “burqa” in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, among others, has also crystalized the racism growing against immigrants, but also against the generations of Muslims who have been living in Europe for many decades.
However, the European Court of Human Rights upheld France's controversial burqa ban, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breaches religious freedom, while the European Union as a whole decided to set up “hotspots” or migrant camps, for example on the Greek islands, where inhumane conditions have been heavily condemned by human rights groups.
Five years later, migrant arrivals to Italy have almost dried up, new asylum requests across the European Union have more than halved in three years and at the end of 2018, Hungary’s reception centers housed just three refugees. Still, nationalist politicians continue capitalizing on the so-called migrant crisis.
During the 2010s, an unprecedented total of 467 species have been declared extinct, according to the global authority on species conservation status, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, in what has been growingly described as the beginning of the 6th mass extinction potentially wiping out from the Earth the human species as well.
In Europe, the rise of movements like Rebellion Extinction in the United Kingdom or the “collapsologists” in France has had little impact on policies so far, as proved by the disappointing failure of nations to reach an agreement on how to address global warming during the United Nations climate summit COP 25 held in Madrid in December.
“COP25 was a success for the fossil fuel industry,” May Boeve, executive director of the 350.org group, declared in a statement throwing a gloomy shade on the prospective for the planet. “This was the only real benchmark for success, and on this important test, once again, politicians have failed us.”
Around 13.4 million documents from offshore law firm Appleby leaked on 5 November 2017, dubbed the Paradise Papers, was the latest leak of documents that show how millionaires and international corporations hide their wealth and try to avoid paying their taxes.
It revealed that among the prominent world figures with offshore accounts, a number of Latin American politicians under investigation, suspected of opening offshore shell companies and accounts for tax havens.
In some cases, like Lithuania, the Paradise Papers led to the recovery of unpaid taxes and penalties, increasing government revenue.
In January 2019, journalist Pelin Ünker was sentenced to a fine and more than a year in jail for releasing Paradise Papers material regarding a Turkish official.
In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 52 percent of British voters backed leaving while 48 percent voted to remain in the bloc. Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum, resigned immediately afterward.
In order to leave, the UK had to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty, which outlines the steps for a member state to withdraw. Cameron’s successor Theresa May formally triggered Article 50 in March 2017 which set the clock ticking for the UK to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal by March 29, 2019.
The deadline was extended three times, to Oct. 31, 2019, after parliament three times rejected the deal May had struck with the EU. May resigned in June. Now the MPs have formally approved PM Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the UK on January 31st.
In a hopeful move for democracy and the rise of popular movements against IMF policies, Greeks overwhelmingly rejected conditions of a loan from creditors in a 2015 referendum, with 61 percent rejecting a deal that meant to impose more austerity measures on an already ravaged economy. In the first five years of the decade, conservative governments had imposed cuts in public spending that had left one in four without a job and shrank the economy by a quarter.
But the hope suddenly vanished when the then-governing leftist party Syriza denied the results and the promise it had been elected on, and eventually accepted the demands of the coalition of the “Troika” of Eurozone finance ministers, the IMF, and the European Central Bank (ECB).
Even if Greece eventually paid off the loan three years after the referendum, the turnaround of Syriza left a bitter taste - without mentioning the devastating consequences on public services and the Greek economy.
In France, the decade has been marked by a series of social movements forcing governments to backtrack on neoliberal economic policies.
In December, many sectors of the economy have launched a national strike against a pension reform that has recalled the spirit of the 1995 social movements against similar labor laws.
The protests follow more than a year of weekly mobilizations of the “Yellow Vests” where numbers have only started to dwindle because of the massive police repression, resulting in hundreds of injured - often with serious injuries because of the use of military-grade weapons - and more than a thousand of prison sentences against protesters who participated in the movement.
As for the fight against gender violence and sexual assaults, Spanish women have led the feminist movement in Europe.
The protests gained momentum even before the hashtag #MeToo started to invade social media networks on the other side of the ocean, provoked by the gang-rape of a woman in a doorway early in the morning at the 2016 San Fermin festival by five men who called themselves the “Wolf Pack.”
As Spanish law didn’t legally recognize rape unless physical violence or intimidation is employed, the judge first only sentenced the men for “sexual assault.”
Later, after a massive outcry, Spain’s Supreme Court eventually found the five men guilty of rape in a landmark ruling that was praised by human rights groups and women organizations.
A referendum on the independence of Catalonia held on Oct. 1, 2017, after being deemed illegal by Madrid, plunged Spain into its most serious political crisis since the death of dictator Francisco Franco four decades ago.
Madrid responded to the declaration of independence by the wealthy region’s parliament by imposing direct rule on the region for months, sidelining regional authorities.
In October, the conflict stepped up to a new level after Spain’s high court jailed seven Catalan activists. The regional parliament responded to the arrests by adopting a resolution backing civil disobedience and protests have gone stronger since then.
Catalonia’s independence drive has overshadowed Spanish politics for years and will continue to unravel in the coming years.
We started off the decade with largely widespread enthusiasm for the possibilities offered by social media with the launch of Facebook and Instagram in 2010. Ten years later, Facebook became a giant with 2 billion users despite a tarnished reputation and a series of scandals around the invasion of privacy and meddling in domestic elections.
In Europe, at least a "right to be forgotten" has been recognized in a landmark ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014, which stated that people could ask search engines like Google to remove inadequate or irrelevant information from web results appearing under searches for their names.
In 2019, however, the same court ruled that the sentence was only in vigor in Europe and Google did not have to apply it globally.