13th Apr 2024


Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition

  • Illiberal democracy and the rule of law — which we have been steadily covering since 2014 — has recently bubbled up to be an existential crisis for the European Union (Photo: European Commission)
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The news business is weird — reporting and readership thrives in times of crisis. At the same time, most media companies are built on advertising models. And in times of crisis, advertisers spend less.

This fundamental mismatch in supply and demand makes it both an interesting environment to work in and a very challenging one. At times when you'd need to invest most in coverage, revenue is tight.

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This problem is most nakedly visible in large, publicly-owned media companies — many of which have been making cuts to their news staff since the global economic downturn to preserve shareholder value. Which is why I'm happy to be working for a news non-profit.

EUobserver relies on a number of different revenue sources; first, our members, who finance about a third of our costs; second, there's advertising, which supplies more or less the same; and finally, we receive support from grants and projects, mostly from foundations including the Adessium Foundation, Fondation Nicolas Puech, Tides Foundation and the Schöpflin Stiftung.

Now, you probably expect me to pivot into a plea for purchasing memberships, but you are mistaken (although I would not discourage you from signing up). Instead, I'd like to focus on the last bit and our plans for the future.

At EUobserver we go deep on covering topics that are commercially unattractive for advertisers — difficult but important topics like the harsh reality of regulating migration and green policy.

Another of these topics, illiberal democracy and rule of law — which we have been steadily covering since 2014 — has recently bubbled up to be an existential crisis for the European Union.

Not only in Hungary, but also in Poland and Italy, illiberalism has been gaining ground, which could at some point lead to an illiberal right-wing supergroup in the European Parliament, come the European elections in 2024.

Covering these developments is crucial for understanding the future we might be facing, but at the same time something we cannot expand without outside support — either from members, or from foundations that believe that shining a light on authoritarianism is the best way to show its true form.

We are working on a project that will expand our coverage and debate in this area, and if you feel that you might be able to contribute in any form — through expertise, access or financially — please get in touch. And of course follow our coverage in the Rule of Law section on the website.

Onwards to the most essential articles we published this week:

EU Commission proposes freezing 65% of funds to Hungary

On Sunday, the European Commission recommended the suspension of the majority of EU funds to Hungary over rule-of-law and corruption concerns.

This stick now being used to scare Viktor Orbán's government straight is a fairly new one in the commission's toolbox, having only been around since last January. Expectations are it will have its intended effect, but as an anonymous diplomat told Eszter Zalan later in the week that "we have seen 10-plus years of backsliding. To think that an entire culture of corruption can be reversed in three month's time is wishful thinking."

Read it here.

'No decision expected' for EU decision on unanimous decisions

While the headline of this story led to great mirth around Twitter, the underlying issue is somewhat more serious, explains our reporter Eszter Zalan.

Qualified majority voting instead of unanimity voting on topics like sanctions or human rights issues has been discussed off-and-on for quite some time, but is gaining more urgence now some countries (*cough* Hungary) are poised to veto extending sanctions on Russia.

But in a Catch-22- situation, adopting majority voting requires a unanimous decision — one which smaller member states are unlikely to back out of fear of losing their voice.

Read it here.

What should Europe do if Russia uses a nuke?

With the possible annexation of regions of Eastern Ukraine following a mock referendum, fears have reignited around Russia resorting to nuclear force — not in the least because Putin alluded to that in his speech on Tuesday.

Tomi Huhtanen, executive director of the think tank of the European People's Party, the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, urges European leaders to consider its unified response to an unlikely, but not out-of-the-question event.

Read it here.

EU drops call for 'independent' probe into Abu Akleh killing

In a shrewd bit of reporting, our foreign affairs reporter found that EU countries had scrapped a very important word from calls for an inquiry into the shocking killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

"If the softer language stays it is less likely Israel will be held to account, given its track record of exonerating its own soldiers in internal probes," he writes.

Read it here.

EU asylum in doubt for Russians fleeing army draft

Russians fleeing the immediate draft of army reservists in Russia — issued in a speech on Wednesday by Vladimir Putin — won't be able to count on the hospitality of Estonia or Latvia.

Other countries bordering Russia have either not taken an outspoken stance, or have, like in the case of Finland, stated that they will treat asylum seekers from Russia as any other. The country has seen an uptick of Russian nationals crossing the border, but no dramatic spikes — yet.

Read it here.

Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán

With Italy heading to the ballot box on Sunday — and media everywhere scrambling to find original angles on covering likely victor Georgia Meloni — another Viktor (sorry) cheers her on. The question is, will he actually benefit from this right-wing victory?

While the two leaders might agree on certain topics (migration and (un)equal rights), Meloni will probably not risk the EU recovery funds and the ECB bond buying scheme so desperately needed by her financially-challenged country.

Read it here.

'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians

So far, over 1,200 high-profile Russians have been put on Europe's sanctions list.

With Russian war rhetoric stepping up, EU diplomats are scrambling to find more Russians worth sanctioning.

"When it comes to individuals, "there are no big fish left," one EU source said. "We've already got the full collection of oligarchs and everybody in the political and defence establishments."

And those back in Moscow, making the key decisions, may like to ponder this scenario.

Read it here.

As always, my various inboxes are open for feedback, suggestions, tips, leaks, ideas and gossip.

See you next week,


PS. The digest is also available as a newsletter on LinkedIn, subscribe here.

Background reads: Italy's election

With Italy heading to the ballot boxes this Sunday, let's take a look at what EUobserver has published that can help understand the country's swing to the (far)-right.

EU sanctions hamstrung by threat to food security

The EU has lifted some restrictions on the trade and financing of Russian coal and chemical to avoid an energy and food security crisis in poorer countries, but the upcoming ban on oil may have an even deeper impact.

EUobserver in 2024: a year to watch out for

With 2 billion citizens slated to vote next year (including 400 million Europeans), 2024 might just be the biggest year for democracy ever – and we'll be there to cover it on a new website.

Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all

Large Language Models could give the powers trained data-journalists wield, to regular boring journalists like me — who don't know how to use Python. And that makes me tremendously excited, to be honest.

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