16th Sep 2019


EUobserver's Top Ten stories of 2018

  • Some of the faces behind the stories: from left to right, Eszter Zalan, Lisbeth Kirk, Nikolaj Nielsen, Eric Maurice, Andrew Rettman and Peter Teffer (Photo: Rebecca Roskam)

With a small team in Brussels, and an array of freelance reporters across the EU's 28 member states, EUobserver has always strived to dig deeper than the rest, prioritising original and investigative reporting over the daily flood of announcements, speeches and EU 'bubble' personalities.

2018 - the final full year of the Juncker Commission, ahead of next year's stormy-looking European elections - was ultimately dominated by three issues: Brexit, migration, and the increasingly "illiberal" policies of some EU eastern member states, most notably (but not only) Poland and Hungary.

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With all three issues interlinked and unresolved, they look like setting the agenda for the May 2019 European Parliament election. With the far-right formally in power-sharing governments in Rome and in Vienna, and autocratic and nationalist regimes entrenched in Warsaw and Budapest, it looks like being a bumpy year for whoever the next European Commission president may be.

Below are our unofficial 'Top 10' stories of 2018 - not necessarily the most-read or most-clicked on, but a selection that shows the width, scope and depth of our reporting.

We would also like to thank those of you who already do so for supporting EUobserver and independent journalism.

A 20.5 percent rise in contributions from our members in 2018 gives us great confidence, as we look forward to an exciting 2019 and to deserve your continued support.

If have not already joined the EUobserver club, please consider signing up by clicking on this link.

In the meantime, please enjoy and keep reading in the new year to see what happens next.

10. Katainen explains: My friend Barroso did not lobby me

Katainen explains: My friend Barroso did not lobby me (Photo: European Commission)

As the scandal broke over former commission president Jose Manuel Barroso having secret and undocumented meetings with current commissioners, despite now working as a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, our reporter Peter Teffer cornered commissioner Jyrki Katainen in the European Parliament for an explanation. Apparently, it was all above board, and the pair only went for a mid-afternoon beer and a catch-up. "Then actually, he kind of read my thoughts and he called me, or sent a message. "Are you around in Brussels? Let's have a cup of coffee'. I proposed: let's go for a beer," said Katainen. Read more

9. How eight MEPs overruled 540 colleagues on office expenses

How eight MEPs overruled 540 colleagues on office expenses (Photo: Transparency International EU Office)

Another exclusive from Teffer. All year, EUobserver covered the scandal of MEPs receiving so-called 'expenses' which are, in fact, a monthly lump sum paid, no questions asked, no receipts needed, no underspend required to be repaid. Here's how MEPs decided to police themselves. Read more

8. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund

How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund (Photo: Google Streetview)

An external investigation, by Crina Boros and Investigate Europe into how the world largest asset management fund held meetings with the EU Commission to lobby for a pan-European pension fund - and got its way. Notable hires by BlackRock include, of course, former UK chancellor George Osborne. Read more

7. Orban to EPP: turn 'Christian democratic' or face challenge

Orban to EPP: turn 'Christian democratic' or face challenge (Photo: Bundeskanzleramt)

The EU - and not least, the European People's Part (EPP) - spent much of 2018 trying to deal with the 'enfant terrible' of the bloc - Hungary's three-time election winner but authoritiarian, nationalistic and self-proclaimed "illiberal" - Viktor Orban.

While procedures were launched, against both Hungary and Poland, over constitutional and rule of law issues, a dogwhistle anti-semitic campaign against George Soros went largely unpunished, as did Hungary's refusal to take it's 'share' of refugees and migrants. Meanwhile, in this story from Eszter Zalan from the summer, Orban showed his tactical savvy - while on the ropes from the EPP, his counter-gambit was 'accept me, or I start a populist, anti-migrant' party. So far, it's worked. Read more

6. New book: Why war is coming

New book: Why war is coming (Photo: Debeauf)

One of our most-read stories of the year - unsurprisingly, considering its headline - the new book by Koert Debeuf, meditating on the future of Europe, and the EU, in the light of globalisation, migration, Islam and the rising 'testosterone' levels in a world led by Trump, Orban, Farage et al, with comparisons with the collapse of the League of Nations - makes for gloomy reading. Read more

5. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?

Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link? (Photo: Yuri Samoilov)

Although more attention went on Hungary and Poland, the EU's soft underbelly of corruption, passport-selling, assassinations and dodgy oligarchs in Malta and Cyprus did not escape Andrew Rettman's attention. This nearly 4,000 word expose of the Cypriot banking sector and its Russian links reads like a John le Carre thriller. Read more

4. Private jets - the Achilles' heel of EU air traffic security?

Private jets - the Achilles' heel of EU air traffic security? (Photo: Starr-Environmental)

Another investigation, in August, by Crina Boros and Juliet Ferguson of Investigate Europe. Much gets written about the '1 percent' in terms of globalisation and inequality. In fact, there's another story - the airport security checks that apply to the rest of us, the 99 percent, are only applied 'with the lightest touch' if you can afford a private jet. Read more

3. Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim (Photo: DG ECHO)

Some deep digging into a think-tank that happens to share an office with a PR firm that happens to have handled the Moroccan account, which has Moroccan ministers onboard, and the lead MEP in the trade file in the parliament (at least until this story was published), while the EU negotiates over the heads of the people of Western Sahara with Morocco on mineral and fish rights.

This investigation led to resignations. Read more

2. Inside Erdogan's torture chambers

Inside Erdogan's torture chambers (Photo:

What happens when you're a Turkish Nato office, working in Brussels' HQ, and get a call to go back to Ankara for an "interview" in the wake of the coup against president Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Clue: it involved being tortured in a gymnasium covered in blood. Now safely back in Belgium, this interview takes you into Erdogan's internal repression. While Turkey in 2018 may be no nearer joining the EU, Erdogan is receiving billions in euros to prevent refugees and migrants reaching the bloc. Read more

1. Selmayr slip discloses phone numbers in photo

Selmayr slip discloses numbers in photo (Photo: junckerepp)

Ultimately, Martin Selmayr's backdoor 'coup' promotion to head of the EU commission civil service prompted many other headlines, complaints and a rebuke from the EU ombudsman that it "stretched and possibly even overstretched the limits of the law". However, eagle-eyed Nikolaj Nielsen spotted another problem - in his promotion picture, Selmayr accidentally left the entire list of EU commissioners' private mobile phone numbers visible, quickly making this story go viral and our most-read story of 2018. Not a good first day in the office. Read more

Selmayr slip discloses phone numbers in photo

The European Commission's most powerful administrator, Martin Selmayr, has revealed the mobile phone numbers of heads of cabinet, including his own, in a vanity shot.


Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.


How should the EU handle Russia now?

Should the West help the Russian opposition to try topple the regime, or make new deals with Putin, as France is keen to do?

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay


Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

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