Life

The 50 Moments That Defined Europe This Decade

From Silvio Berlusconi and the migrant crisis, to Greta Thunberg and the world's smartest octopus.

by VICE Staff; illustrated by Hunter French
11 December 2019, 8:45am

Decades are how we give shape to eras of pop culture, how we define what motivated us to go after what looked – even if only at the time – like human progress. That's why entering a new one should be a celebration of our collective sense of wonder at what's to come, not cause for dread about how fucked we all are.

As 2009 folded into 2010, there were reasons to feel optimistic that common sense and tolerance would welcome us on the other side. After all, the 2000s had started with the Iraq War and LimeWire, and ended with Barack Obama and the iPhone. That message of hope and change spread to Europe, and a newly engaged generation of young, liberal activists committed to ensuring that our planet wouldn't burn down, either from climate change, financial greed or war.

Then everything changed. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when – but at some point, the promise of the early-2010s slipped quietly into the night. Suddenly, the connectivity we so valued was being used to rig elections, opening the door to far-right populists desperate to regain power and control the narrative about who was European and who wasn't. The last ten years across our continent have been challenging, at best. Quite simply: far too many people have spent far too much time defending their right to exist.

Still, it's important to look back on how we got here, to pause and remember those who were killed in terror attacks at the Bataclan, in Utøya, at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester; to remind ourselves that a generation of young people who grew up surrounded by bigotry and terror managed to progress the fight to defend climate science, the humanity of migrants and a person's right to choose who they are and whom they love.

Here's our recap of the 50 moments – elections, activists, parades and Paul the Psychic Octopus – which defined Europe this decade.

1575893637990-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1

Scoring a solid four points out of a possible eight on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), the explosion of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano pumped out an estimated 250 million cubic metres of volcanic fragments and a nine-kilometre-high ash plume. The volcanic ash clouded European skies for days, resulting in the largest air traffic shutdown since WW2.

Between the 14th and the 20th of April, 2010, 107,000 flights were cancelled and 10 million passengers affected. For some, it meant a welcome extension of the Easter holidays, although not so much for the 200 Bangladeshi nationals on their way to London, who – without the right visas – were basically held as prisoners (much like Tom Hanks in The Terminal) in a Belgian airport. – Michael Segalov

1575893772050-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-1

The year is 2010 and the spectre of the 2009 Great Recession looms large. Governments across Europe are struggling with growing debt and deficits, and the fallout has hit the poor old banking sector hard.

Enter Greece, a country that had – before the global financial crisis – enjoyed a fairly robust economy. But increased government spending to plug income gaps had led to mounting debt. By May of 2010, austerity was the name of the game, and the government announced a series of measures as part of a €110 billion bailout from the EU and the IMF.

The move was met by riots, protests and general social unrest. It's now considered to be the first major episode in what would become known as the European Debt Crisis, going on to hit Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus in subsequent years. – Rose Stokes

1575893821387-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-2

Sure, Spain technically won the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but the real hero of the story was the psychic octopus, the prophetic cephalopod, the one and only: Paul.

The world’s attention turned to the eight-armed sea creature, originally from Weymouth, England, when he correctly predicted the results of all eight of Germany’s matches. Each time, Paul was presented with two boxes marked with the flags of both teams. Whichever he picked first went on to be victorious.

In October of 2010 his death was confirmed by staff at his home, the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, where a memorial to him still stands. RIP. – Michael Segalov

1575893922385-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-3

Can you remember a time before The Voice existed? Before will.i.am and Sir Tom Jones had shared their first fist-bump? Before the music industry had considered judging talent above looks? Before those red chairs?

The concept, first launched in Holland in 2010, was the brainchild of John de Mol. It involved four recording artists judging "blind auditions", in which they could only hear – rather than see – the contestants. Since then, and with a few tweaks, it has become a reality TV staple in a staggering 145 countries. Wikipedia says there have been a combined 416 winners worldwide. Winners who include… wait. Yeah, you know… you know the one? That one? No wait… was that X Factor?

Meanwhile, John de Mol is now worth an estimated €1.5 billion. – Rose Stokes

1575893996660-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-4

Cast your mind back, if you can, to those halcyon days before Brexit. Simpler times, when rising student fees were the UK's most pressing concern. After literally promising to slash fees for UK students, the Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of sharing office with the Tories. And PM David Cameron decided it was a better idea to raise fees instead.

That didn’t go down well. A huge student protest of 50,000 kicked off in London, and hundreds occupied Conservative Party headquarters, inspiring similar events across the country. Hundreds were arrested, we all learned what "kettling" meant and people were very angry. So was it all worth it?

Not really – unless, of course, you're Welsh, whose assembly blocked the fee hike. Sucks for the rest of us Brits, though, who’ll still be paying back our student loans when we claim our state pension at 93. – Rose Stokes

1575911615260-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_45

It’s hard to imagine that, until 2011, the phrase "until death do us part" was literally the law in staunchly Catholic Malta. Marriages, until that point, could be exited only via dying.

The decision to legalise divorce was made via everyone's favourite democratic instrument: the referendum. After a particularly nasty public debate, in which one bishop warned that "yes" voters might not be able to receive communion, the yes vote won with 53 percent of the ballot. So yeah, not exactly a landslide. But it did make Malta the last country in Europe to legalise divorce, leaving only Vatican City and the Philippines worldwide.

Finally, the Maltese could put their desire for big parties and presents ahead of scary things like lifelong commitment, just like the rest of us heathens. – Rose Stokes

1575913422711-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_44

In what will be remembered as one of the most chilling terrorist attacks in modern history, white nationalist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people over the course of 48 hours in Norway. His attacks began with a car bomb in Oslo, which killed eight people, and finished on Utøya, an island housing a youth camp, where he opened fire and killed 69 more, many of whom were children.

His stated motives, released online in a manifesto on the day of the attacks, were a terrifying reminder of the insidious consequences of Islamophobia and misogyny in modern society, and forced the media to buck the trend of eschewing the label of "terrorist" for white extremists. Eight years later, an Australian gunman cited Breivik as inspiration for murdering 51 people in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. – Rose Stokes

1575980767884-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_01

Not since the Sex Pistols' seminal 1976 track had the word "anarchy" been used so liberally in the UK. Plastered across right-wing mastheads, the term encapsulated the civil anger that erupted in August of 2011 when police shot dead a young black man named Mark Duggan, who they accused of plotting an attack.

Four days of the most intense rioting, arson, looting and general chaos in living memory kicked off around the country, resulting in five more deaths. Things were so bad that poor old David Cameron had to cut short his expensive holiday to come and see what all the fuss was about.

The riots signalled the first of many angry protests by disenfranchised people who were being crushed under the weight of Tory austerity in the wake of the financial crisis. It set the tone for a collective vexation still burning bright nine years later. – Rose Stokes


Read more: Remembering My Part in the London Riots


1575894190191-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-9

It's almost impossible to say the words "Silvio" and "Berlusconi" without following them with "bunga bunga". If Italy's infamous former prime minister – who became the longest-serving leader in the country since Mussolini – seemed untouchable, it’s because he was.

Scandal after scandal hit the tanned leader, but nothing seemed to stick. There were the sex parties and the trial (known as "Rubygate") where he was accused of soliciting sex from a minor. There were more racist comments and inappropriate "blunders" (as they were referred to in the press) than is worth counting. But here's one: he once justified his sexual exploits by saying, "It's better to be fond of pretty girls than to be gay." And yet, he survived. Why? It helped that he controlled the vast majority of Italian media.

His resignation in 2011 was met with parties and celebrations – a fitting farewell for Mr Bunga Bunga. – Rose Stokes

1575894224581-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-10

In 2012, Europe survived the predicted End of the World. And how did it celebrate? By completely tearing! Itself! Apart! Over! The! Following! Decade! – Rose Stokes

1575979479852-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_41

Formed in 2011, the punk feminist protest group Pussy Riot came to the world’s attention in February of 2012. Stripping off their winter coats and donning colourful balaclavas, Pussy Riot members took to the altar of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to perform "Punk Prayer", a song attacking President Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism and his ties with the Orthodox Church.

Their stunt wasn’t appreciated by Russian authorities. Less than two weeks later, the activists were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, arrested and remanded in custody before trial. Three of their members served jail time and many others were physically attacked on multiple occasions. Joke’s on Putin: their trademark outfits are now an internationally recognised protest symbol. – Michael Segalov

1575911180356-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_08

The category is: men who’ve made a living exposing the wrongdoing of high-profile people, who then turn out to be terrible themselves. Step forward Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, a controversial website set up in the 2000s to expose worldwide government wrongdoing.

Assange became a household name after publishing documents relating to the Iraq and Afghan wars, supplied by Chelsea Manning, who was subsequently jailed in the US. But the hunter became the hunted in 2010, when Sweden published a warrant for Assange’s arrest on rape and molestation charges. Claiming innocence, Assange argued it was all a complicated ruse for the Americans to nab him.

This began a strange game of cat and mouse that led to his voluntary incarceration in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012, where he stayed as a de facto political refugee – presumably surfing the web and eating ceviche – for seven years. – Rose Stokes

1575894521934-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-14

At last! Some positive news! Humans used their brains to work out something that advances our understanding of the world. Right, so: Higgs Boson. What is it?

According to the dictionary definition, the Higgs Boson (nicknamed the "God Particle" for being so hard to pin down) is "a subatomic particle whose existence is predicted by the theory that unified the weak and electromagnetic interactions". So there you go. But its discovery was monumental, mainly because it's crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, otherwise known as... everything. Something scientists had been trying to prove for a very long time. – Rose Stokes

1575911257062-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_07

It's hard to know just how much notice to pay the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela are among its winners, but so too are Barack "Drone Strike" Obama and genocide-overseer Aung San Suu Kyi.

Regardless, the decision to award the European Union the 2012 prize was significant, even if only for a moment of reflection. For centuries, war and conflict defined inter-European relations, the first half of the 1900s a particularly bad time for peace. Member states haven't openly warred with each other since the start of the EU, and that counts for something.

Still, members of the European Union have been partially responsible for wars elsewhere in the world, and every day gruesome things happen to keep people from coming into the EU. – Michael Segalov

1575894606300-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-16

When white smoke from Rome's Sistine Chapel announced the election of a new Pope on the 13th of March, 2013, it heralded a choice few had expected. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, became a lot of firsts. The first Jesuit pontiff, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first from outside Europe in 1300 years. It was a sign, perhaps, that the Catholic Church was set to do things differently.

Since then, this new spiritual leader has introduced more progressive ideas by pushing for action on climate change, demanding an end to nuclear weapons and signalling a modernisation in approach to contraception and homosexuality. That said, the 82-year-old still thinks abortion is the equivalent of "hiring a hitman". So, swings and roundabouts. - VICE Staff

1575893694119-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-17

Cheating allegations had dogged the record-breaking cyclist since 1999, but finally – in a frustrating interview with Oprah Winfrey in January of 2013 – Lance Armstrong admitted to using banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong was an internationally-celebrated hero after surviving testicular cancer at just 25 years old, before eventually winning a record seven Tour de France titles. But after conceding he'd used banned drugs the cyclist was stripped of all accolades won after August 1998. So, lesson learned. Or not. A few years later, in a brilliant display of humility, Armstrong told the BBC that if it were 1995 he’d "probably do it again".

Before long, 1,000 Russian athletes would be implicated in an international doping scandal, challenging Armstrong for his well-fought title of "biggest cheater of the decade". – Michael Segalov

1575911568782-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_36

On New Year's Day, 2014, freedom of movement restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians expired, meaning they were free to live and work in all EU countries without need for a permit. Forecasts had anticipated that as many as 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would migrate to the UK per year. But in a knock-back for the xenophobes at UKIP there was actually a notable initial drop initially.

The number did eventually rise, and were cited by pro-Leave campaigners in the run-up to the Brexit vote. This was the moment anti-immigration rhetoric in the UK started getting really bad. Sad, really, that these migrants have contributed far more to the UK economy and culture in that time than Nigel Farage and his mates have. – Rose Stokes

1576062432747-gert

Outspoken Islamophobe and leader of the Dutch far-right Party For Freedom (PPV), Geert Wilders sank to new lows during the 2014 election campaign. In attacking the Netherlands’ Moroccan community – one of the largest of the Moroccan diaspora, at almost 400,000 – he made himself very unpopular, very quickly.

Wilders' electoral promise to ensure "fewer Moroccans" in the country if elected sparked outrage among civilians, politicians and the media alike. It was met by protests, and led the Dutch broadcaster RTL News to take its first editorial position in 25 years years, telling Wilders he had "really crossed the line".

Thousands of people filed complaints and Habib El Kaddouri of the Grouping of Dutch-Moroccans Foundation said the community felt attacked. It also led to a trial in which Wilders was found guilty of inciting discrimination. Unfortunately, this had no discernible impact on his party’s performance at the next election. – Rose Stokes

1575894763418-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-22

To say 2014 was a bad year for Ukraine would be an understatement – it was a long, nightmarish series of shitty events, and the beginning of war in the country.

It all started in November of 2013, when pro-Moscow President Victor Yanukovych tried backtracking on a trade deal with the EU. After violent protests in Kiev, the capital, he was run out of the country and his government toppled.

Next, Russian soldiers invaded and annexed Crimea – an area in the south of the Ukraine with a majority Russian population. A few weeks later, pro-Russia separatist rebels began seizing territory in the Donbass region, which is what started a war that still rages on. – Michael Segalov

1575894798136-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-23

On the 17th of July, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Russian missile near the Ukraine border. All 298 people aboard were killed, including 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 27 Australians. It remains the deadliest atrocity in the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists. The subsequent investigation was the biggest of its kind in Dutch history, involving almost 200 investigators.

Russian involvement in the tragedy was confirmed by the Dutch and Australian governments in a joint investigation in 2018. In June 2019, Dutch authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of four suspects, the most prominent of whom is a former member of Russia's Federal Security Service. The Russian government is, unsurprisingly, being uncooperative and, to this day, justice for the 298 people killed has not been reached. – Rose Stokes

1575894827175-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-24-1

The question of whether the Scots wanted independence from the UK gave us our first glimpse of British politicians' now-trademark inability to run a referendum campaign. If you're into metaphors, there isn't a better one than this embarrassing flag malfunction. Other highlights included Sky News presenter Kay Burley being caught calling a Yes campaigner a "bit of a knob" and these independence-loving Very Good Boys.

Of the record 97 percent of people who were registered to vote, a whopping 84.6 percent turned up on the day. Suffice to say, people were pretty engaged, and in the end the No campaign won with 55.5 percent of the vote. Amped up by what it considered to be a successful outcome, the Tories could now focus their energies on debating the UK's membership of the EU. But more on that later. – Rose Stokes

1575894851915-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-25

It wasn't a nail-biting finish. When Copenhagen hosted Eurovision in 2014, Conchita Wurst was confirmed as the only possible winner well before it was over. Her catchy tune "Rise Like a Phoenix" quickly became a queer anthem, but judging by the shocked, emotional and slightly unwell look on the Austrian's face, she hadn’t been expecting it.

Of course, there’s always been an inescapable campness to the contest, and this wasn’t the first time an LGBTQ act competed or even claimed victory. But Conchita’s win marked a pivotal moment for Europe's queer community, with 195 million people worldwide witnessing the moment a genderqueer bearded drag queen received the full 12 points from countries spanning Slovenia to Italy, the UK and Portugal. – Michael Segalov

1575893732553-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-34

On the 7th of January, 2015, 12 people were killed and a further 11 injured when brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi carried out a mass shooting at the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo in the 11th arrondissement of Paris.

Armed with a cache of weapons, the two terrorists entered the controversial publication’s headquarters before opening fire, killing a police officer outside as they made their escape. France was placed on its highest terror alert as a string of deadly follow-up attacks ensued while the rest of Europe watched on in terror. Four days later, in a display of unity, 2 million people – including 40 world leaders – joined a rally in the French capital. - VICE Staff

1575911336448-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_30

Not all referenda are soul-crushing events – especially when they're supporting equal rights and don't end in a shit show. On the 22nd of May, 2015, voters in Ireland made history by voting to legalise same-sex marriage. The results showed overwhelming support (62 percent for Yes), and were a huge marker of progress in a country with massive influence from the Catholic Church.

"We are a small country with a big message," Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach (prime minister) told the world press.

The momentum continued, with the country legalising abortion two years later in another referendum, and sent up a flare visible to LGBTQ people all over the world that things are slowly changing for the better. – Rose Stokes


Read more: Gender-Neutral Passports Don’t Guarantee Equal Rights


1575894978086-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-27

In what could be regarded as one of the biggest Fuck Yous a government has ever received from protesters, 2015 saw a successful lawsuit brought against the Dutch government, ordering it to reduce emissions by 25 percent within five years. A court in The Hague found the Dutch government’s plans to cut emissions by just 14-17 percent unlawful, and ruled in favour of Urgenda, a group of climate campaigners named for the urgency posed by the climate crisis.

The landmark ruling was the first ever to establish that governments aren’t just morally responsible, but also legally responsible for fighting climate change, and was upheld in an appeal in 2018. Take it as evidence of the positive impact protesting can have and use it as fuel to keep fighting for the environment. – Rose Stokes

1575975427568-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_03

For many, the most haunting image of the decade was the body of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, face-down on a beach in Turkey. Alan, along with his mother and brother, drowned trying to reach the Greek Island of Kos by boat. He was one of almost 1 million refugees (predominantly from war-torn Syria) to reach Europe in 2015, and one of the almost 4,000 to die en route. 2015 was arguably the peak of what is now referred to as the European Migrant Crisis, witnessing the highest number of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II

The situation has since improved slightly, with the European Commission announcing earlier this year that the crisis has officially ended. However, there are still many, many people in dire need of help. A great way to support them is to donate via the UNHCR, or if you can’t afford that, volunteer for Lighthouse Relief. – Rose Stokes

1575895025631-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-29

The same year the Paris Climate Agreement was signed – when world leaders reached a landmark agreement to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees – German car manufacturer Volkswagen was hitting headlines for all the wrong reasons. The scandal erupted after it was revealed that the car manufacturer had used illegal software to cheat diesel engine tests to conceal emissions levels.

The case received international coverage and has cost the company more than €30 billion in fines, vehicle refits and provisions. It also led to the indictment of the company’s former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, who could face up to a decade in prison on charges of fraud.

Most horrendous of all is the cost to the environment: The Guardian estimated at the time that the company could be responsible for nearly a million tons of extra air pollution a year – roughly the UK’s combined yearly emissions for power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture. – Rose Stokes

1575895170452-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-30

In January of 2013, Greek anti-fascist left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas (AKA Killah P) was murdered. Giorgos Roupakias, a member of the far-right political party Golden Dawn, later admitted to the murder, and was convicted.

The tragedy is widely viewed as the catalyst of the arrest of the entire 69-strong membership of Golden Dawn and its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos. Many of the group were tried in 2015, facing charges related to a series of attacks on immigrants, LGBTQ people and leftists. The trial is ongoing and remains a huge demonstration of institutional protection against fascism in Greece. It also empowered the anti-fascist music scene in Greece, which had been badly hurt by the murder of one of its own. – Rose Stokes

1575895198426-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-31

They walked in to dance and drink. Scores of them never walked out. A nightclub fire in Bucharest killed 64 revellers on the 30th of October, 2015. Two years later, one of the victims' boyfriend, who was also in the club that night, killed himself as a result of what he went through. It was Romania’s deadliest blaze in modern history. The inferno, caused by a live band’s pyrotechnics, swept through the over-crowded venue as people trampled over each other to escape through a single fire exit.

"I was lying in a pile of people," one survivor told VICE. "I thought to myself, 'Wait, I'm 20, what's happening? I'm going to die.'"

But this wasn't a tragic accident: it was an avoidable disaster. The deaths shone a light not only on the incompetence and corruption of health, safety and licensing officials, but also on how such behaviour was rife among the Romanian government. After thousands marched on Bucharest demanding a clean-up, Prime Minister Victor Ponta had to stand down. - VICE Staff

1575895253554-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-32-1

Every Parisian knows exactly where they were when a series of coordinated terrorist attacks broke out across the city on Friday the 13th of November, 2015. In total, 130 people were murdered in a single night in one of the most chilling Islamic State attacks on Europe to date. The majority of those killed were concert-goers watching the band Eagles of Death Metal at the city’s famous Bataclan theatre.

Three gunmen entered the venue during the concert and opened fire, killing 90 people in total and leaving over 200 wounded, before killing themselves by detonating suicide vests (one was shot by police). Parisians used the hashtag #portesouvertes (open doors) to offer shelter to those afraid to travel home after the attacks, and all Parisian state schools and universities were closed the next day. The attacks remains the deadliest event in France since WWII – Rose Stokes

1575895317920-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-33

If humanity wants to avoid being stewed alive, vast amounts of work and difficult choices are going to have to be made. But if Earth as we know it does survive another century or two, it could be down to an agreement made in a conference room in the suburbs of Paris.

There, in December of 2015, 195 world leaders negotiated an accord to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than 2 degrees, work towards a carbon neutral planet and create funding to reduce greenhouse gases.

The Paris Agreement was not perfect. None of it was legally binding and some countries have pretty much ignored it ever since. In 2017, the US announced its withdrawal. Nonetheless, this was a historic moment. It showed world leaders were taking climate change seriously (if still not seriously enough) and created a framework for all future accords. - VICE Staff

1575987788763-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_22

More senseless killings. This time, on the 22nd of March, 2016, Brussels – the nucleus of European policymaking – was the target of a coordinated attack that left 32 dead and 340 injured. Three suicide bombers detonated devices in separate locations across the city.

The attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, were seen by many as a strong message that IS's European network was still operational, despite investigations by security forces across the continent. A leaked report later revealed that the Brussels district of Molenbeek was home to up to 51 groups with links to terrorist organisations. This information led America’s chief diplomacy officer to label the city a "hell hole" – which was, of course, very well received. Critics were quick to point out that Trump had not visited Belgium's capital in 20 years.

Still, Europeans' hearts bled for 32 more lives lost to terrorism, with the emotional climate later boosting anti-immigration rhetoric and support for far-right parties. – Rose Stokes

1575895380916-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-36

Brexit has split families, caused legislative gridlock, seen the rise and fall of many politicians and contributed to the death of Labour MP Jo Cox. It’s also put paid to the British tradition of not talking about politics, which is probably the only positive in the whole mess.

In an unexpected victory for the Leave campaign – the tactics of which have since been called into disrepute – Britain voted 52 percent in favour of leaving the EU in June of 2016. Since then, the only thing the UK's parliament has managed to agree on is that they’re incapable of agreeing. The political deadlock, combined with the influence of UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage, has spurred a climate of rage – with hate crimes and support for far-right groups rising. Not to mention the other million depressing repercussions.

We’re the punchline of jokes all around the world, and things aren’t going to improve anytime soon. – Rose Stokes

1575895403854-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-37

France has form when it comes to policing the dress of Muslim women. In 2004, all religious dress – including the burka, hijab and niqab – was banned in French state schools; in 2011, full face-veils were banned nationwide. And then in 2016, a few months after the Bastille Day attacks in Nice, Mayor of Cannes David Lisnard took things a step further by banning the burkini.

Media at the time pointed out that since the burkini didn’t hide the face, it was technically a legal garment. But Lisnard called the burkini – which is the equivalent of a wetsuit-hat-combo – a “symbol of extremism”.

The ban was overturned in 2016 for violating civil liberties, but not before 20 French towns followed suit and one Muslim woman was charged a €490 cleaning fee after swimming in a private pool in her burkini. If that sounds outrageous, it’s probably because it is. – Michael Segalov

1575979090430-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_17

They came in their tens of thousands, defiant and dressed in black: "My uterus, my opinion," read one placard.

The 3rd of October, 2016 would become known as Black Monday, as some 100,000 Polish women went on strike from work and schools, taking to the streets to protest against plans to completely criminalise abortion – including in cases of rape. "I don’t want to live in a country where the government sticks its nose in my pants," one demonstrator in Warsaw told VICE.

The action was, it turned out, a show of strength too powerful to ignore. Although Poland still has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, its parliament dropped the new extended proposals immediately. - VICE Staff

1575895434568-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-38

"The world just shook and boomed," is how survivor Martin Hibbert described it. "And then there were screams, and you were no longer at a concert; you were in hell."

Twenty-two innocent people died – seven of them children – when an ISIS suicide bomber detonated during an Ariana Grande gig at Manchester Arena on the 22nd of May, 2017. Scores more were injured – including Hibbert and his 15-year-old daughter, who were both paralysed.

A second terrorist attack was carried out in the capital 12 days later. This time, eight people were killed when three terrorists drove a van into Saturday night revellers on London Bridge and knifed others in Borough Market, before they themselves were shot dead by police.

Just a day after the devastating attack in London, more than 55,000 people filled Old Trafford cricket ground for a concert titled One Love and part-organised by Grande herself. - VICE Staff

1575895461709-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-39

For years, it was the stuff of mobile-based nightmares: going abroad, forgetting to switch your data off and then being hit with a mega-bill back home. Local newspapers were filled each summer with stories of holiday-makers landing back happy and tanned – only to find they owed a couple of thousand euros to Vodafone.

Then the EU stepped in. In June of 2017, all roaming charges were abolished for EU citizens travelling within its borders. Wherever you are in the 28 countries, you pay the same price for calls, texts and browsing as you would at home.

The legislation was the work of ten years of negotiations and, at a stroke, made life easier (and cheaper) for anyone exploring the Union. Two years on, Brussels still considers the law one of its "greatest and most tangible successes". - VICE Staff

1575979329120-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_18

One of Europe's most famous streets, Las Ramblas is a tree-lined thoroughfare of sun-soaked cafes, shops, theatres and street performers leading down to the glistening Mediterranean Sea.

But on the 17th of August, 2017 it became a horror scene, when an ISIS terrorist ploughed a van into pedestrians, killing 15 and injuring 131. Six extremists linked to the attack were later shot dead by police.

"Seeing all those bodies is an image I will never be able to erase from my mind,” a hotel worker told VICE. Yet Barcelona – like Paris, Nice, Brussels and Manchester before it – refused to be terrorised by terror.

Within hours of the horror unfolding, hundreds of locals descended on city hospitals to donate blood. The next day, thousands gathered in Las Ramblas repeatedly chanting "No tinc por" – "I am not afraid." - VICE Staff

1575911796739-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_05

When 2.2 million Catalonians arrived at polling stations to cast their ballot on the region’s independence in early October, 2017, they didn't expect to be met with police brutality.

In scenes that shocked Europe, baton-wielding officers used force to stop Catalans from voting in a referendum that the Spanish government and courts had declared unconstitutional. As a result of the police action, more than 800 people were injured. "As soon as I saw the brutal images, I went to the nearest polling station and voted," one woman told VICE at the time. "I wasn't a separatist before, but I am now."

When the results came in, 90 percent were in favour of a split from Spain. Madrid, however, was in no mood for listening. Two years on, Catalonian independence remains elusive while nine organisers of the referendum have been jailed for sedition. - VICE Staff

1575895770727-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-43

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist who investigated corruption, money laundering, nepotism, organised crime and all the other things that make powerful men very uncomfortable.

Just like many of her colleagues, she was often accused of writing fake news. People tried to intimidate her with lawsuits, arrests, arson attempts on her home and the murder of three of her pets. Eventually, a bomb placed under her car silenced her fearless reporting.

Since her assassination on the 16th of October, 2017, investigations by both the EU and local authorities led to the arrest of three hitmen, a businessman and, most recently, three members of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government. He resigned, triggering a national political crisis.

Today, Daphne’s death reminds us how easy it is for bullies to pit public opinion against journalists who speak truth to power. - VICE Staff

1575911714987-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_04

Until then only famous for its very tall cathedral and the fact it's quite close to Stonehenge, the quiet city of Salisbury in the southwest of England became the centre of both a murder plot and an international diplomatic row.

On the 4th of March, 2018, former Russian military man turned UK intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the chemical weapon Novichok after dinner at an Italian restaurant and found unconscious on a bench nearby. Two Russian military intelligence members were identified as culprits, before – in a bizarre state TV interview – they claimed to have only been in Salisbury to see its cathedral, "famous for its 123-metre spire".

Some British allies expelled Russian diplomats, so Moscow retaliated by banishing the exact same number. – Michael Segalov

1575895844455-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-45

An estimated 5.3 million women across Spain took to the streets on International Women’s Day to stand up against pay inequality, sexual discrimination and domestic violence, in what was widely considered the country’s first ever "feminist strike".

The action touched every major city, as demonstrators demanded an end to the country’s "machista" culture. "If we stop, the world stops," was the official slogan.

How much the strike achieved is debatable. Wage gaps, gender discrimination and violence against women all remain as endemic in Spain as elsewhere. Yet the action undoubtedly highlighted the need for change. "We were breaking millions of barriers," demonstrator Marta Llucia told the Little Black Book website. “Women were beginning to be more united than ever." - VICE Staff

1575895866165-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-46

At just 15 years old, Greta Thunberg stumbled on a truth that humanity has been struggling to grapple with for longer than she has been alive: climate change is destroying the planet.

Unlike most of us, however, the Swedish youngster decided this was not someone else’s problem. She took ownership. She skipped school one Friday in August of 2018 and protested outside the country’s parliament. Then she kept doing it every week.

“It is my moral responsibility,” she said of her action.

Thankfully, she was not alone for long. Inspired by her actions, millions of school pupils across the world now go on strike roughly one Friday every month to demand adults finally take action on climate change.

Meanwhile, Greta herself has since been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. - VICE Staff

1575895894201-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-47

Proof that when the French protest, they don't half-arse it.

What started as an online petition against rising fuel tax exploded into violence on the 17th of November, 2018, when demonstrators took to the streets of Paris to air wider grievances about structural hardships.

Cars were torched, businesses smashed up and stores looted as protesters – nicknamed gilet jaunes because of the yellow jackets they wore – fought a running battle with teargas-firing police. Over eight consecutive weekends, millions of euros worth of damage was done, while at least 3,000 demonstrators were arrested. Ten people were killed.

A year later, despite a range of policies designed to reduce wider support for the movement – including reducing fuel tax – protests remain a near-weekly occurrence. - VICE Staff

1575895915671-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNER_MOCKUPArtboard-1-copy-48

It was a movement unprecedented in size and scope. In March of 2019, millions of school pupils, inspired by Greta Thunberg, skipped Friday classes in more than 80 countries to protest against climate change.

From Australia to Austria, India to Italy, they gathered in city centres making one simple demand: that they be allowed to inherit a planet in good working order.

"No one's here because they enjoy protesting," one 14-year-old told The Independent. "But what’s the point of going to lessons when we’re not going to have a future?"

Governments, it seems, have started to agree. As the protests have become more regular, country after country have announced green policies which, although limited, do at least suggest this existential crisis is finally being taken seriously. - VICE Staff

1575895943319-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERspsbArtboard-1-copy-49

It was to be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated: a $310 billion behemoth agreed between the two largest economies ever known on planet Earth.

Supporters of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and US said it would boost global economies, create millions of jobs and drag up working conditions by freeing up each market to the other.

Opponents argued it was a shady corporate power-grab that would allow industrial elites to privatise public services (the NHS! The NHS!) and overrule sovereign governments.

In the end it didn’t matter.

After four years of talks, in August of 2016, Germany’s then vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel announced the deal was "de facto" dead. The sheer complexity and inevitable partisan nature of the negotiations had, it seemed, confounded even the world’s brightest economic minds. In 2019, the European Commission declared the TTIP "obsolete and no longer relevant". - VICE Staff

1575975565960-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_02

The representation of athletic women on TV has come a long way from the “girls can do it too and still look hot” attitude exemplified in cinematic masterpieces such as Charlie’s Angels and Tomb Raider. With France still buzzing after the men’s national football team won the 2018 World Cup, the country hosted the women’s tournament, which made history on and off the pitch.

A record 260 million viewers tuned in to see the USA beat the Netherlands in the final, with 88 percent of Dutch TV viewers watching the match. TV records were also broken in the UK, France, Germany and China.

Like in most professional fields, however, the wage gap is real in women's football. Despite the total prize money in the women’s competition being doubled to $30 million, that still pales in comparison to the $400 million offered to the winners of the men’s tournament in Russia. – Michael Segalov

1575979140899-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_11

Some 73 years after Benito Mussolini was shot dead and strung up in a Milan square, Italy pivoted to populism. On the 1st of June, 2018, Matteo Salvini’s Northern League more than quadrupled its share of votes, making him Italy’s interior minister and de-facto head of a coalition with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S).

Salvini’s anti-immigration, anti-same-sex marriage and anti-EU rhetoric charmed disenfranchised voters. When Salvini banned all ships carrying migrants from entering Italian waters, he usurped the M5S in a sort of public opinion coup. "I am convinced," he told Italians, "there is an ongoing attempt of ethnic replacement."

But the far-right leader overplayed his hand. This August, his party quit the coalition in a bid to force early elections and win more power. It failed. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte waved the Northern League on its way and cobbled together a centre-left coalition instead. - VICE Staff

1575979275407-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_10

The quiet courage of Captain Carola Rackete is perhaps best captured in her now-famous radio conversation with the Italian coastguard.

In June of 2019, her boat had spent two weeks in the Mediterranean carrying 42 migrants rescued from a raft. On board, a health crisis was developing. But Italy, under far-right de facto leader Matteo Salvini, was refusing access to its waters.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Rackete was heard telling coastguards, "I have to inform you I must now enter Italian waters. I cannot guarantee the safety of these people anymore." When officials threatened a naval blockade, she replied: “My arrival time in port is estimated at around two hours.”

From there, Captain Rackete, a 31-year-old German humanitarian worker, out-manoeuvred a country’s navy, docked her boat and saved the lives of 42 people. And then found herself arrested (and later released). - VICE Staff

1575987738487-DEFINING_MOMENTS_BANNERS_09

When she was abducted while hitchhiking, Romanian schoolgirl Alexandra Macesanu managed to phone the police three times. “Please come quickly, I’m scared,” the 15-year-old told operators, before telling them she had been raped and giving details of where she was being held.

The police responded by taking 19 hours to arrive at the property. By the time they acted – on the 24th of July, 2019 – Alexandra was dead. She had become the second victim of 65-year-old Gheorghe Dinca, who later admitted to killing another teenager in the city of Caracal.

Mass protests at the official incompetence followed. The country’s chief of police was sacked along with other senior officers, while the interior minister resigned. Yet many Romanians are still furious: there remains a strong belief that the country’s police are simply not fit for purpose. - VICE Staff

Tagged:
News
VICE International
Europe's Defining Moments of the Decade