11th Dec 2023


Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks

Listen to article

Insiders probably already know the Brussels media ecosystem thrives on leaks — and boy, is Brussels a leaky place.

I could hardly contain my excitement when I got to read my first leaked EU policy document a few weeks ago. How naive I was.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Turns out, internal EU Commission documents more often than not find their way into journalists' hands, either because any journalist worth their salt knows someone with access to them, or because they're purposely sent over.

Reasons differ, ranging from policy-makers believing in transparency, to hoping certain information is made public to support their ideas — or to torpedo those of others.

There's a very definite hierarchy in the value of documents obtained; the more secret they are, the more valuable they might be.

Lowest on the rung are documents classified as LIMITE UE — mostly drafts of policy proposals, position statements or budgets. These are documents that are intended to be public at some point … but not quite yet. The UE bit is just French for EU.

The level above is called RESTREINT (restricted), which are documents that will cost you your job if shared.

I'll let my colleague Andrew Rettman take it from here, as he wrote an excellent article about document classification back in 2012 and is such a concise writer that I wouldn't be able to condense his prose if I wanted to:

"It said RESTREINT material could be "disadvantageous" to EU interests if it gets out. It might "adversely affect" diplomatic relations, "distress" individuals or "facilitate" crime and "improper gain."

CONFIDENTIEL information could "harm … essential" EU interests. It might prompt "formal protest or other sanctions" by non-EU countries. It might also "damage" EU "security or intelligence operations" and "undermine the financial viability of major organisations."

SECRET could "seriously harm" interests. It might "raise international tensions" or "threaten life" or "public order."

TRES SECRET could cause "exceptionally grave prejudice" to EU wellbeing. A breach might cause "widespread loss of life," threaten "internal stability" or "cause severe long-term damage to the EU economy."

His article also lists examples of leaks of each, and the fallout resulting from them. Would definitely recommend a read.

But since we have none of those sexy documents for now (which you can always send to me securely over Signal), back to our run-of-the-mill LIMITE docs.

These are the documents we frequently discuss in our daily editorial meetings, trying to suss out the importance and relevance for readers. Which, since they often pertain to pretty standard procedural stuff (and can be extremely dense), is a challenge in itself.

Then again, many people seem interested in these documents, which sometimes can give a heads-up about forthcoming policy that could move markets or inform lobbying efforts.

This week, we were debating if it would be worth sharing the documents we receive as short news items with some context on the relevance. The idea is that these could be of interest to a select group of people. I mean, Politico has built a business model around this, so it should have some value?

To try this out, we published one little story confirming the omission of the word 'independent' from an EU call for an investigation of the killing of journalist Abu Akleh, and another more trivial one about a Czech EU presidency proposal to ban fireworks from football stadiums.

We're still on the fence about publishing documents without a full article, so if you have any thoughts — positive or negative — on this, do share.

Onwards to the articles you should have read from us this week:

Underwater explosions were detected near Nord Stream leaks

Speaking of leaks, the leaks of the week were of course the Nord Stream pipeline ruptures. Consensus among policy makers is coalescing around the certainty of it being deliberate sabotage — especially since Swedish and Danish seismologists registered explosions around the time of the drop in pressure. Wester van Gaal spoke to Swedish authorities about the leak, but as you might suspect, more questions than answers remain.

Read it here.

EU mulls more police powers for west Africa missions

Based on a leaked concept paper (!), reporter Nikolaj Nielsen has the story on how the EU aims to give its missions in Niger, Mali, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and Kosovo "'semi-executive functions', enabling them to provide direct support to police and carry out joint investigations on migration related issues." The leaked paper outlines an EU that would work with "corrupt and rights-abusing governments when it comes to issues dealing with security and migration."

Read it here.

Russian ideologue and caviar on latest EU blacklist

Earlier this week, Ireland surprisingly joined EU nations pressing for tougher sanctions on Russia as a response to Moscow's annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine. The new sanctions are wide-ranging, hitting multiple industries to the tune of €7bn and some individuals, most notably nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, whose daughter was killed in a car bombing last month. The proposed sanction package also includes a cap on Russian oil prices.

Read it here.

The European shipping giants plying Putin's fossil-fuels trade

A wide-ranging investigation by Investigate Europe and Reporters United lifted the curtain on the millions of tonnes of oil, gas and coal shipped by European vessels from Russian ports. While ships transporting Russian fossil fuels fly flags from all over Europe, Greek shipping companies are by far the most prolific. Check out all the fancy data visualisations in the article they so kindly shared with us.

Read it here.

Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

Reporter Valentina Saini hit the streets of northeastern Italy to find out why the region of Veneto — a League stronghold in the past election — jumped ship to massively vote for Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy. "In recent years the League has made only empty promises. FdI was successful in Veneto and the rest of Italy because it promised what workers and entrepreneurs wanted to hear."

Read it here.

Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan

Energy ministers are meeting today to discuss how European citizens and businesses can be protected from exploding energy bills. One of the main questions — on which there will be no decision today — is how to keep gas prices down. A European gas price cap has been proposed, but actually implementing is incredibly complicated. So complicated, in fact, that we broke down the main issues to help you (and me) understand what the issues are.

Read it here.

'Collective guilt' — the dilemma of penalising Russia's opposition

Should the (mostly jailed or exiled) democratic opposition in Russia suffer the consequences of Putin's choices? A thought-provoking oped asks the question if 'collective guilt' is the right way forward for dealing with Russians. "There is now a growing disparity between those in the EU that believe Russian democrats should receive further support, and those who advocate cutting ties with all Russians, declaring the Russian people per se responsible for the war." The answer, they write, would be wise to be 'no'.

Read it here.

Thank you to all new subscribers to this newsletter, and as always, my various inboxes are open for feedback, suggestions, tips, leaks, ideas and gossip.

See you next week,



How US tech giants play EU states off against each other

Some have tried to justify Big Tech's meagre tax payments in EU states with heavier tax burdens by emphasising the fact that these companies create jobs and invest in next-generation technologies. However, their market dominance comes at a steep cost.

Deregulation of new GMO crops: science or business?

Academics and biotech research organisations with corporate interests have been leading the lobby campaign to deregulate new genomic techniques in the EU — using 'climate-friendly' and 'science-based' narratives, according to a report.

Netherlands tops EU social safety net for the poor

The Netherlands is the only EU state where the minimum income is above the poverty line. A minimum income is not a wage but rather a social safety net to ensure people do not end up destitute.

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.

Latest News

  1. How Moldova is trying to control tuberculosis
  2. Many problems to solve in Dubai — honesty about them is good
  3. Sudanese fleeing violence find no haven in Egypt or EU
  4. How should EU reform the humanitarian aid system?
  5. EU suggests visa-bans on Israeli settlers, following US example
  6. EU ministers prepare for all-night fiscal debate
  7. Spain's Nadia Calviño backed to be EIB's first female chief
  8. Is there hope for the EU and eurozone?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us