24th Jan 2018

EUobserver's most read stories of 2017

  • Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron. Russian fake news, especially during the French presidential election, were one of the year's main phenomenons (Photo:

In 2017, EU-sceptic Donald Trump became US president, Brexit negotiations were launched, newcomer Emmanuel Macron was elected French president and German chancellor Angela Merkel won a difficult fourth term. Catalonia also tried to break away from Spain, Poland went further in its confrontation with the EU, and Europeans started to look ahead as the economic crisis abated. Meanwhile, in this news-filled year, fake news became a phenomenon.

Here is a look back at our 15 most popular articles of the year.

15. Poland 'leaving EU community of values'


Reforms of the Polish judiciary by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have raised concerns across Europe that judges and prosecutors will no longer be independent. Under new laws passed this year, PiS will control appointments in the supreme court and in the National Council of the Judiciary, which regulates the profession. It will also control the presidents of district and appeals courts. In December, the European Commission said there was a "clear risk of a serious breach of rule of law" in Poland, and triggered article 7 of the EU treaty, a sanctions procedure that had never been used before. Read more

14. May's offer on citizens' rights dismissed as 'pathetic'

(Photo: Council of the European Union)

After the British vote to leave the EU, the future rights of 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK are at stake. They were one of the three main issues - together with the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement - on which the EU-27 wanted "sufficient progress" before opening the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. British prime minister Theresa May made an offer in June that she said was "fair and serious". But it was dismissed as not being specific enough and it took several months of talks to reach an agreement. Read more

13. Two EU states break ranks on Jerusalem

(Photo: Hungarian government website)

The decision by US president Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to consider moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv was condemned by the EU as being counter-productive to the peace process. At a summit in Brussels, EU leaders "reiterated" their "firm commitment to the two-state solution" between Israelis and Palestinians. But two leaders, Hungary's Victor Orban and the Czech Republic's Andrej Babis, voiced support for Trump's position. In a vote at the UN General Assembly later in December, the two countries, as well as Croatia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania abandoned the EU line and abstained in a vote for a resolution condemning Trump's decision. Read more

12. Brexit realities dawn in UK

(Photo: Davide D'Amico)

A year after British voters chose to leave the EU, the real consequences of Brexit are still not completely clear. But many have started to realise that the process is not going to be easy. "Given that the UK has made clear it wants to be out of the single market and out of the customs union, and that the EU's demands are going to be quite high on issues like the UK accepting the EU norms - that's going to be a difficult circle to square," Stephen Booth, from the Open Europe think tank in London, told EUobserver. Read more

11. Secret EU lawmaking takes over Brussels


According to figures obtained by EUobserver, not a single EU draft law ended up in a second reading agreement in 2016, only the second time this has happened since European Parliament record keeping began in 2004. Second readings are important because they open up the debate to the public at large. Removing this phase means the details are being agreed behind closed doors and people have to rely on insider information to understand what is happening. Read more

10. EU to exclude financial services from post-Brexit deal

(Photo: Facebook - Prime minister's profile)

Whether financial institutions in the City of London will keep their passport to continue doing business in the EU, and especially in the eurozone after Brexit, has been an ongoing question since the Brexit vote. In draft guidelines after UK prime minister Theresa May triggered article 50 to start negotiations, the EU said it would exclude financial services from a deal on EU-UK long-term relationships. But in December, EU negotiator Michel Barnier repeated that that would not be the case. Read more

9. EU medicines agency reveals new home preferences

(Photo: Roderick Eime)

One of the consequences of Brexit is the move from London of two EU agencies, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA). Nineteen EU cities were candidates to host the EMA, and eight to host the EBA. While the EU said it would look at criteria such as operational capacities, accessibility, and access to school or labour markets for the staff's families, the staff had their own preferences, often based on quality of life. In the end, EMA staff were happy, since the winner - Amsterdam - was among their preferred destinations. Read more

8. Fight club: Russian spies seek EU recruits

(Photo: Sean Gerety)

Amid Russian efforts to influence public opinion in the EU through state-sponsored media, social networks and fake news, an EUobserver investigation showed how Russian secret services used martial arts clubs to recruit potential troublemakers in Germany and other EU countries. The clubs, which teach an offensive style called "systema", all have "direct or indirect" links to the GRU military intelligence or FSB domestic intelligence services in Russia, said Dmitrij Chmelnizki, a scholar of Russian espionage who lives in Berlin. Read more

7. Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya


When Malta took the presidency of the EU Council in January, the Mediterranean island warned that the situation in Libya, just 1,000 kilometres away, would worsen if a Russian-backed Libyan warlord, Khalifa Haftar, started a "civil war". While keeping ties with Moscow, Haftar also became an interlocutor for the EU, even if he continues to contest the power of the UN-backed government. He was received in Paris and Rome, and intends to run for president in 2018. Read more

6. Gulen did not order Turkey coup, EU spies say

(Photo: Reuters)

Since the failed coup of July 2016, Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in the US, has become the arch-enemy of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both were allies in the past, but Erdogan says that Gulen was the mastermind behind the attempt to overthrow or even kill him. Thousands of militaries, judges, academics and journalists have been dismissed or arrested for allegedly being linked to Gulen, but according to a document seen by EUobserver, the EU's intelligence-sharing unit, Intcen, said Gulen did not order the coup. Read more

5. Amsterdam wins EU medicines agency on coin toss

(Photo: Piotr Chrobot)

While Paris was chosen by EU member states to host the European Banking Authority (EBA) after Brexit, Amsterdam won the competition to host the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Both cities won when their names were drawn at random after votes by ministers put Amsterdam in a tie with Milan, and Paris in a tie with Dublin. The two agencies will move in 2019, after the UK, were they are based, leaves the EU. Read more

4. Russia-linked fake news floods French social media

(Photo: Alessio Milan)

After the US presidential election in 2016, the French campaign during spring was targeted by fake news intended to influence voters. According to a survey by UK-based firm Bakamo, released just before the first round of the election, almost one in four of the internet links shared by French users of social media were related to fake news, much of which favoured anti-EU candidates and showed traces of Russian influence. Fake news were later referenced by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in her TV debate with Emmanuel Macron. At a press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin after he was elected French president, Macron said that Russian media "behaved as organs of influence and of lying propaganda." Read more

3. Sex and lies: Russia's EU news

(Photo: blogocram)

Since October 2015, an EU-unit called East Stratcom monitors false and distorted news spread by media and websites about the EU and EU countries. A study of their findings by EUobserver showed that many came from Russian and pro-Russian websites and that they focused on migration issues and German chancellor Angela Merkel. They also often use sex as a way to shock people. "Sex sticks to memory," a diplomat said. "It creates a lot of emotions … when your objective isn't to inform people, but to divide them, destabilise them, make them more fragmented, more afraid, more angry." Read more

2. Polish TV airs alternative report on EU summit

At the March EU summit in Brussels, EU leaders voted in favour of a second mandate for Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. Only one country opposed the decision: Poland, where Tusk used to be prime minister and remains an opponent to the ruling PiS party. On Polish public media, the event was presented as a success for Poland and its then-prime minister Beata Szydlo, as well as proof of the EU's lack of democracy. Read more

1. McCain: World 'cries out' for US and EU leadership

(Photo: Taskforce20)

US president Donald Trump started his term by saying that the UK "was so smart in getting out" of the EU and that Nato was "obsolete". In a speech in Brussels in March, John McCain, an influential senator in Trump's Republican Party - and a former presidential candidate - replied that the EU was "one of the most important alliances" for the US and that the EU and Nato were "the best two sums in history", which had maintained peace for the last 70 years. Just two months into Trump's presidency, McCain said that "the question is: who does the president listen to, who drives the tweets at six in morning?" Read more

Look back at the events that shaped Europe and what's to come in 2018 in EUobserver's 2017 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to access EUobserver's entire magazine collection.


The EU and US in the age of Trump

America's face changed when Donald Trump replaced Barack Obama. But one year on, the foundations of the transatlantic relationship are still intact.

EU says Brexit transition to end in December 2020

There is no 'a la carte' transition period, the chief EU Brexit negotiator said, adding that the UK will have to comply with EU rules and policies without taking part in making decisions.


Macron: Hegelian hero of EU history?

The election of the 39-year old newcomer injected new hope and dynamism. But the French president still has to find solid allies in the EU and deliver his ambitious agenda at home.


In 2018, make Europe great again!

Is the EU back on track to make Europe great again? The fifth edition of EUobserver's Europe in Review magazine looks at the biggest events that shaped the EU in 2017 and prospects for 2018.


Brexit timeline - 'The clock is ticking'

'The clock is ticking' - a favourite phrase of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier - has become a stark warning, as the UK government took nine months to initiate the Brexit process and even longer to clarify its positions.


In 2018, make Europe great again!

Is the EU back on track to make Europe great again? The fifth edition of EUobserver's Europe in Review magazine looks at the biggest events that shaped the EU in 2017 and prospects for 2018.


The EU and US in the age of Trump

America's face changed when Donald Trump replaced Barack Obama. But one year on, the foundations of the transatlantic relationship are still intact.

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