European Theater

Scotland and Wales to enter Brexit lawsuit

The UK Supreme Court confirmed on Nov. 18 that Scotland and Wales may intervene in an upcoming hearing that will determine whether Prime Minister Theresa May has the power to take the UK out of the EU without a parliamentary vote. Earlier this month the High Court ruled that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows for the UK's exit from the EU, can only be triggered by a vote of the British Parliament. The UK government immediately appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, with Scotland and Wales demanding intervention soon after. While the two countries had their lawyers attend the previous hearing, they will now be allowed to argue how triggering Article 50 without their parliaments' consent will infringe upon their governments' rights and powers. The UK government continues to argue that it has exclusive control over foreign affairs and legal treaties. The three parties will argue their stances at the hearing scheduled for early December.

'Russian nationalists' behind Montenegro coup plot

Montenegro's Chief Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, on Nov. 6 accused "nationalists in Russia" of having organized a cell to overthrow the government during last month's elections in the Balkan country. Katnic told a press conference that the prosecution had evidence that the "criminal organization" was formed in Russia and Serbia to commit "a terrorist attack" during the Oct. 16 poll, and "violently to overthrow the legally elected government." He said the plan was to attack police outside of the parliament building, break into the chamber, kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and declare a pro-Russian government. A group of 20 Serbian nationals were arrested in connection with the supposed plot on election day—including a former commander of Serbia's Gendarmerie, Bratislav Dikic. Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists went on to win the election.

Mediterranean migrant death toll soars

With two months still to go, deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year have hit a record high, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Expressing alarm at the situation, UNHCR reported that 3,740 lives had been lost so far in 2016, just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015. "This is the worst we have ever seen," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing in Geneva. "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88." Spindler said the high loss of life takes place despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800.

France: court allows closure of migrant camp

An administrative court in Lille, France, on Oct. 18 rejected requests from almost a dozen aid groups and permitted the closure process of the "Jungle" migrant camp near Calais to continue. President François Hollande  has promised closure of the camp as pressure for such a result grows while the April election approaches, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated that the demolition project is only days away. The groups were seeking postponement of the closure in order to better organize relocation of the migrants, but the court determined that the closure seeks to prevent inhuman treatment that migrants are currently subjected to at the camp. While another concern was the transport of unaccompanied minors, the transfers are to be done pursuant to the Dublin Regulations, which in part governs family reunification.

Hungary refugee referendum invalidated

Low voter turnout has invalidated the referendum of Oct. 2 in which Hungarian citizens voted overwhelmingly to oppose any EU mandatory placement of refugees. The proposed plan sought to share 160,000 asylum seekers throughout the 28-member bloc through imposition of mandatory quotas. The Hungarian government had opposed the imposition of the plan, along with other countries. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán nonetheless expressed his support for the referendum's results as "excellent" and praised the turnout of voters.

Swiss voters approve new surveillance law

Swiss voters on Sept. 25 approved a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence services broad powers to spy on "terrorist" suspects and cyber criminals, as well as to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. While the right to privacy is traditionally considered very important in Switzerland, the new law will allow security agents to tap phones and computer networks. This marks a drastic change from previous surveillance capabilities, under which intelligence agencies relied solely on information from public sources and other authorities. Some left-wing groups have protested, saying the new legislation violates citizens' rights and will undermine Switzerland's neutrality. Amnesty International said the law would lead to "disproportionate" levels of surveillance and was harmful to "freedom of expression." Despite opposition, the new law garnered 65% of the vote.

Bosnian Serbs defy ruling on independence day

Residents of the Bosnian Serb Republic voted in a referendum Sept. 25 to maintain Jan. 9 as a national holiday in defiance of a court ruling. The date remembers Jan. 9, 1992, when ethnic Serbs declared their own state within Bosnia and triggered a brutal conflict in which it is estimated 100,000 people lost their lives. The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina had banned the referendum, and had originally ruled that the date should be changed because it discriminated against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who had set the date for the vote, said he was proud of the peaceful manner in which the referendum passed.

Macedonia pressed on migrant expulsion, detention

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Sept. 12 urged the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to end its pattern of expelling and detaining migrants contrary to international standards. Numerous central and eastern European countries have recently closed their borders to fight the influx of migrants, and many migrant families have found themselves either trapped in Macedonian transit centers or forced into neighboring countries. Zeid strongly denounced the treatment of such families, stressing that all migrants deserve not only adequate living requirements but also opportunity for employment and education. Zeid also expressed concern over the country's Asylum Law (PDF), which significantly hinders the ability for migrants to be granted legal asylum upon request. Reportedly, 600 migrants have sought legal asylum in Macedonia since 2015, yet only five have actually succeeded. Zeid called on Macedonia and neighboring countries to address the ongoing suffering and mistreatment of all migrant families and abide by international law.