As 2013 comes to a close, EurActiv looks back at the stories that had the biggest impact and were mostly widely shared on social media.
From the debate about a British exit of the European Union to budget negotiations, banking union but also toilet flushing standards, GMOs and shale gas, here are the stories which most fired up your imagination, below.
GMO debate restarted
Our most read story this year was not an exclusive interview with José Manuel Barroso (which we did not get) but a more sober article about the scientific controversy behind GMOs. Studies linking genetically modified crops with adverse effects on the environment or animal health were based on “contested science”, according to a report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which received backing from Anne Glover, the EU’s chief scientific advisor.
The interest generated by that story was all the more surprising since it was not the first time that Anne Glover had expressed support for the technology. In an interview with EurActiv the year before, she said there was "no risk" associated with GMOs and called on EU countries impeding GMO use to be put to the proof.
Can Europe repeat the US shale gas boom?
Growing interest in Europe about shale gas was our second biggest story this year. While shale gas is proving to be a "game-changer" in the United States, bringing energy prices to their lowest level in a decade, conditions in Europe were rather different and would not necessarily be replicated, EU officials said.
And the technology continued to stir controversy among scientists. In Germany, the largest and most prestigious research institute pulled out of a Canadian government-funded CAN$25 million research project looking for sustainable solutions to tar sands pollution, citing fears for its environmental reputation.
- Read: German research institute pulls out of Canadian tar sands project
- Read also: Shale gas firms to be brought under ‘robust’ new EU law
- And: Hedegaard: Forget US-style shale gas revolution
The debate about Catalonia's attempt to win independence from Spain reached the European level, stirring controversy in Brussels about secessionist movements more generally.
In a blow to the regionalists, the European Commission warned that Catalonia would not be considered an EU member state if it became independent from Spain. The European Commission decided to indirectly set out its position on the Catalan self-determination debate, after it refused to comment on a mass pro-independence protest in Catalonia.
Toilet flushing standards going down the drain?
Our third most read story of the year may have come across like an April fools joke at first. But it dealt with a bog standard (pardon the pun) proposal from the European Commission to set criteria for ecolabels for toilets and urinals. The story unleashed a series of furious comments from readers complaining about EU meddling.
The ecolabel would only be voluntary and was developed by a very serious "stakeholder group" made up of consumers, business and local authorities.
2014-2020 EU budget deal
Negotiations over the EU budget for the next seven years (2014-2020) were at the top of our readers concerns this year. Hawks appeared to gain the upper hand in the latest draft presented by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, cutting back still further a version of the 2014-2020 budget presented two months before.
Iceland turns back on EU
This one was a blockbuster in August, traditionally a calm period for EU news. Iceland announced that an election that had brought eurosceptic parties to power had been interpreted by constitutional advisors as a signal to stop EU accession talks.
War in Syria
The civil war in Syria was another highlight of the year. Russia joined the EU in its call for an independent UN investigation of the deadly chemical attack that the Syrian government allegedly carried out against civilians. Unverified footage on Youtube released by Syrian rebel groups shocked the international community. The videos showed dead children and civilians suffering from convulsions after the gas shell.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was considering running for election as a member of the European Parliament for Estonia, a country where Italian laws prohibiting him from running for office did not apply.
South Stream and Russia
The bilateral agreements for the construction of the Gazprom-favoured South Stream gas pipeline – concluded between Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria – were all in breach of EU law and needed to be renegotiated from scratch, the European Commission said.
Hungary's democratic values
In an unusual visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched a sharp attack on MEPs after they criticised the state of democracy in Hungary.
After the financial and sovereign debt crisis, state bailouts and budget cuts, this article said that the May 2014 European elections were expected to take the pulse of public confidence towards the European Union. For the first time, voters would also indirectly choose the next president of the European Commission, giving citizens a fresh chance to shape the future of Europe.
Rise of Eurosceptic parties
With Prime Minister David Cameron having vowed to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU, Britain's penchant for EU bashing was well publicised. But this in depth report said that there were also political parties in other member states which had their issues with the European project, and whose stance against integration was further hardened by the worsening of the economic crisis.
- Read: Euroscepticism: More than a British phenomenon
- Read also: French far-right leads in latest EU election poll
The German elections brought many European issues to a standstill during 2013. And the outcome probably ended in the most predictable manner, with Angela Merkel re-elected for a third consecutive term.
The election also propelled the firebrand social democrat Martin Schulz, the European Parliament president, into pole position to be the Party of European Socialists candidate to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President.
- Read: German elections launch Schulz towards Commission presidency
- Read also our LinksDossier: German elections 2013: Don't mention Europe
Obama calls for US-EU free trade agreement
US President Barack Obama called for talks on a far-reaching free trade deal with the European Union. Delivering his annual 'State of the Union' speech in the US Congress, Obama supported a bilateral agreement that would encompass half the world's economic output.
Tax haven crackdown
The offshore financial industry was hit by the leak of 2.5 million secret bank accounts of companies and nationals in 170 countries to 86 journalists worldwide, under the leadership of the International Consortium of investigative journalism.
Parliament monthly shuttle to Strasbourg
766 MEPs and over 3000 members of staff were travelling every month from Brussels to Strasbourg for the chamber's plenary sessions. MEPs said the monthly shuttle cost over €150 million, approximately 10% of the Parliament's yearly budget and almost 19,000 tones of CO2 emissions. In a bid to save money, time and the environment, European parliamentarians wanted to decide when and where the EU legislature met.
After enlarging to 10 new member states in 2004 and two more in 2007, enlargement fatigue was setting in. In December, the Dutch parliament voted against a government proposal to grant Albania the status of EU candidate country, preventing EU leaders from rubber-stamping the proposal during a summit in Brussels on 19-20 December.
Conscious that enlargement policy had fallen out of grace, Greece even decided to take the subject out of its presidency priority list.
- Read: The Netherlands vetoes Albania’s EU candidate status
- Read: Greece drops enlargement from its EU presidency priorities
British exit from the EU?
This one was not the most read but probably the most significant for the future shape of the EU. UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised to offer Britons a simple ‘in/out’ referendum choice on whether to stay in the European Union if he won the next general election, scheduled for 2015.