Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Editorial

EUobserver's Top 10 stories of 2023

  • The EUobserver team: (from left to right) Nikolaj Nielsen, Atufa Ali, Wester van Gaal, Koert Deboef, Henner Sorg, Andrew Rettman, Paula Soler, Lou Wilmes, Lia Baniotopoulou, Shada Islam, Eszter Zalan, Elena Sanchez Nicolas (Photo: EUobserver)
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Dear EUobserver reader,

First of all, a disclaimer — or, rather, an explication. These are not, necessarily, the most-read EUobserver stories of the past 12 months. That metric gets too easily swayed by a rogue story going viral on Reddit for no obvious reason, or a headline on a piece catches fire, beyond what the actual piece, good as it may be, really merits (mea culpa for trying to come up with arresting but accurate headlines, an art form in itself.)

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  • Gone but not forgotten this year, after seven years at EUobserver, Eszter Zalan (Photo: Moritz Kreis)

Instead, selected by our team of seven reporters and editors, these are the 10 tales we thought best showed the breadth, depth, and originality of EUobserver over 2023, and its quest for original, investigative, off-diary stories about Brussels, the member states, policy-making, social affairs, foreign affairs, migration and the environment — to name just four of our specialised areas of reporting.

We welcomed to the team this year Paula Soler, a Spanish journalist formerly of El Confidencial, and with her came a sweep of stories on workplace practices, union rights, the gig economy, a living wage, and all the sorts of bread-and-butter worker and consumer issues that so many other publications ignore in favour of a 'top-down' focus on commissioners, MEPs and ambassadors, or insider Brussels gossip (looking at you, Politico).

We also said goodbye to Eszter Zalan, our long-serving Hungarian reporter, covering rule of law in Poland and Hungary, as well as Brexit and LGTQI issues, who left to turn from poacher-turned-gamekeeper and a new job at the European Parliament.

As for the comment page, one of our best-read sections, I had published 295 op-eds in 2023, as of 10 December (so add another 10 to that tally), from around 3,650 received (and read!) — as well as commissioning, I receive an average of 10+ daily cold-call submissions, for a slot of one to two pieces maximum daily. To all those who didn't make the cut, and got a polite 'no', I hope that goes someway to explaining why. There's room (this is the internet, after all), there just isn't time.

So let's start with Eszter and Paula.

1. Prosecuting Russia: The possibilities, challenges and risks of a special tribunal

Prosecuting Russia: The possibilities, challenges and risks of a special tribunal (Photo: Ukraine foreign ministry)

In April, Eszter researched a deep-dive into the actual legal and technical logistics of prosecuting Russian president Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine — at that stage, the war had just passed its 12-month mark. Sadly, nearly two years on, it remains as relevant as ever, and the likelihood of Putin facing justice as remote as ever. Read more

2. Spain's €20,000 for all 23-year olds: radical, realistic, or ridiculous?

Spain's €20,000 for all 23-year olds: radical, realistic, or ridiculous? (Photo: Moncloa/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

Giving every 23-year old a lump sum payment of €20,000 from taxpayers' money sounds — initially — ludicrously Utopian, even naive. But with the fate of Europe's 20-somethings stymied by nearly two decades of economic crisis and recession, high unemployment, unaffordable housing, ever more meagre pensions or the ability to save for them, it actually potentially saves a lot more problems further down the line. Sure, the already rich don't deserve it, but it's more expensive to filter them out than it is to make it universal. Other such fringe radical ideas, such as national minimum income, have come from the outer edge of Green/Left think-tanks over the past 20 years, so might not this one? Read more

3. The 'regulatory fatigue' fightback against EU Green Deal

The 'regulatory fatigue' fightback against EU Green Deal (Photo: European Union)

One of the more depressing aspects of 2023 — aside from the Russia/Ukraine war, and the Israel/Gaza war, that is — was watching the long-agreed cross-party consensus on Frans Timmermans' EU Green Deal unravel and fall apart at the last minute, as the centre-right European People's Party saw some political capital in switching horses, and swallowing wholesale the arguments of the Big Agri lobby, and their pesticides and friendly researchers. Elena Sanchez Nicolas compiled the dossier on what happened back in July here: Read more

4. Beyond REACH? EU Commission dumps its chemical reform

Beyond REACH? EU Commission dumps its chemical reform (Photo: Greg Schwanbeck)

Not unrelated or unconnected was the last-minute U-turn on the 2020 Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability back in October. Not a subject field familiar to the general reader, or most mainstream national media, but one with huge knock-on effects for EU citizens — as reported here by Elena. "The profits of the chemical industry are more important than the health of Europeans," said Tatiana Santos, head of chemicals policy at the European Environmental Bureau, and it's hard to disagree. Read more

5. MEP luxury pension held corporate assets in tax havens

MEP luxury pension held corporate assets in tax havens (Photo: Mike Oropeza)

Okay, while we're still on a downer about MEPs and their all-too-human foibles and weakness — how about this exclusive from freedom-of-information fiend Nikolaj Nielsen in May? The headline says it all, really, but the context (we're not suggesting every MEP was aware of this) is that while on the one hand the EU Commission has, very tentatively, belatedly and half-heartedly, been going after global tax havens, the European Parliament's own pension fund was investing in them. One hand not telling the other hand what it was doing — and that's the charitable interpretation. Read more

6. Art of resistance: Exiled Russians create new wave in Europe

Art of resistance: Exiled Russians create new wave in Europe (Photo: Kyle Taylor)

Time for a freelance investigation, and this time a look at the generation of young Russian artists who have fled Putin's murderous, autocratic and simply philistine regime, to find a new life (and hopefully work) in Europe. It's not been easy for any of them. This 4,000 word feature by Daria Kozlova, a correspondent at independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe but briefly 'on loan' to us as a resident journalist at EUobserver came out in the dog-days of August and was not (as per my introduction) an instant blockbuster, readers-wise. But, like a lot of EUobserver pieces, it has a 'long tail' of readers finding it weeks, even months later, and now has a very respectable readership. Which it merits. Read more

7. EU lawyers for Russia: making 'good' money?

EU lawyers for Russia: making 'good' money? (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Some things may be morally wrong, without being legally wrong — a classic case would be the 'taxi rank' principle among lawyers, where they take the next available client, be it an alleged murderer or rapist, because everybody deserves a legal defence in a court of law. But when your clients are Russian oligarchs, fighting EU sanctions after Putin's invasion of Russia, surely there's an option to turn down those eye-watering fees? Foreign affairs correspondent Andrew Rettman talked to those lawyers happy to take the roubles, more than a year into the conflict. Read more

8. A generation hungry for change — meet the MEPs under 35

A generation hungry for change — meet the MEPs under 35 (Photo: European Parliament)

We also do campaigns, and special projects. The 2024 European Parliament elections are coming up, and whilst in the real world, a 35-year old is not youthful, indeed bearing down on middle age, in the Brussels Bubble, it's still pretty rare to have MEPs under 35. Weird, considering the Fridays for Future movement, and all the other radical forms of street politics campaigning 18-35 year olds often get involved with, but we spoke to all the under-35 year old MEPs from across Europe to see what motivated them — and if they considered their age a disadvantage, working in the parliament. Read more

9. UAE's fossil-fuelled high-tech mirage of a green future

UAE's fossil-fuelled high-tech mirage of a green future (Photo: Rashed Al Mansoori, UAE Presidential Court)

Ahead of the recent CO28 in Dubai, our Green economy correspondent Wester van Gaal flew to Abu Dhabi for the launch event — and soaked in the weird and wonderful atmosphere that is a unsustainable desert petro-state, trying to reinvent itself as a global Green saviour. Have a guided tour of the Potemkin village that is Masdar city. Read more

10. Israel's Gaza attack 'beyond proportionality', Norway says

Israel's Gaza attack 'beyond proportionality' (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/Norden.org)

EUobserver takes pride in covering the Nordic region — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland — in cooperation with the Nordic Council. But that's not to say big breaking news stories usually come out of these largely agreeable meetings of Europe's high-tax, high-public spending social-democratic North. October was the exception, where Norway's prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre broke ranks, to tell EUobserver founder Lisbeth Kirk that Israel's actions in Gaza went "beyond proportionality". An anodyne quote in any other context, in the context of the Gaza war, a major break from EU orthodoxy (yes, Norway isn't in the EU, but still...) Read more

That's just 10 stories — from, at a rough estimate, 1,752 pieces of journalism published by EUobserver in 2023. Not a bad tally, for an editorial team of just seven people. But a special shout out should go to our backroom staff too, of Henner Sorg (sales and marketing), Lou Wilmes (diplomatic relations manager), Atufa Ali (business administration), plus original founder of EUobserver Lisbeth Kirk, and chairman of the board, Koert Debeuf.

While we still have your attention, a special mention can also go out to comment piece of the year, and freelance piece of the year.

11. Rhodes to ruin — fleeing the Greek inferno

Rhodes to ruin — fleeing the Greek inferno (Photo: Sky News/Screengrab)

Ordinarily, opinion pieces come from journalists, academics, ambassadors, NGOs, MEPs, activists, researchers, or union officials, dissecting overlooked pieces of EU legislation, false notes in the drumbeat of foreign affairs, or consumer affairs affecting the millions of EU citizens who may have no clue where or how to rectify an injustice. I always have one mantra for incoming op-eds: 'Is it new? And is it interesting?' And that also gives me the freedom as op-ed editor to range far and wide across issues and topics that our team of reporters have neither the time nor the expertise to cover, broadening the piste of our coverage. But this time, a regular op-ed contributor to the site, former Guardian, Politico and Reuters journalist Arthur Neslen, happened to be in Rhodes this summer on a family holiday, as the climate heating wildfires took hold, and he notice smoke from across the other side of the valley. Read more

12. Oil-spill devastation in Nigeria — and how the EU can fix it

Oil-spill devastation in Nigeria — and how the EU can fix (Photo: European Community, 2006)

Just as we were "going to press" (to use a pre-internet expression), freelance investigative reporter Raluca Besliu, a Romanian journalist based in Brussels but focussing on West Africa and the environment, won the 2023 Hostwriter Story Prize, for this investigation into a oil spill by the French multinational Totale Energy, in the Niger Delta. Something that, in future, the International Criminal Court in the Hague may recognise as a a crime of 'ecocide'. Read more

Author bio

Matt Tempest is the Berlin-based editor and comment editor for EUobserver since 2017. Previously, he was at The Guardian, AFP, and dpa.

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