Look-back: Best of the news made in 2020 so far

2020 has been a rollercoaster ride so far. [Photos: EPA-EFE / CHRIS KLEPONIS, ROBERT PERRY, STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

As the EU institutions – and the EURACTIV newsroom – wind down for the summer break, take a look at some of the biggest, most popular and unusual stories published so far in 2020, as well as the catalogue of our best videos this year.

🦠 Coronapolitik 😷

Despite quarantine measures, our network of reporters was able to report on pandemic developments happening in Belgium, Georgia, Spain, the United Kingdom and as far afield as the remote Faroe Islands. Our dedicated tracker continues to keep on top of all the news.

The political response to the crisis was varied. Some countries demanded ‘coronabonds’, mask diplomacy escalated and tourism suffered, while famed thinker Noam Chomsky claimed the pandemic was the latest failure of neoliberalism.

Quarantine conditions risked making cases of domestic violence worse, so the European Parliament opened its doors to vulnerable women in Brussels and staff set to work in the kitchens as part of a charity drive.

Whether the crisis counts as the EU’s ‘Hamilton moment’ will remain a matter of debate, as will whether Eastern Europeans really were more resilient to the initial outbreak.

Croatia’s first stint in charge of the Council’s rotating presidency ultimately fell under the shadow of the pandemic and was not made any easier by an earthquake in Zagreb, while Germany’s presidency is almost completely geared towards dealing with the virus fallout.

After much negotiation and many frustrating virtual summits, EU leaders – wrangled by the double-act of Macron and Merkel – finally brokered a deal on the bloc’s long-term budget, including a €750 billion pandemic recovery plan:

Council brokers historic stimulus pact as budget cuts, rule of law retreat plague deal

Leaders of the 27 EU countries finally compromised on a €1,074 billion long-term budget and recovery fund instrument early on Tuesday (21 July) morning, but it took one of the longest-lasting summits in European Council history and the final deal cut funding for some of the bloc’s key priorities.

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⚡ Energised mobility 🚗

The virus forced the EU to put a number of green initiatives on ice but Brussels is still pressing on with calculating a new 2030 emissions reduction goal, after successfully publishing its much-anticipated Climate Law, just before the pandemic hit Europe.

A brand new hydrogen strategy also saw the light of day, as gas operators unveiled a plan to build a backbone of pipes across Europe for the clean fuel and aerospace giant Airbus admitted it has a future in aviation.

Travel restrictions caused the unusual phenomena of ‘ghost flights’ – which the EU quickly put a stop to – while they pitted passengers against airlines in ‘voucher-gate’ but gave railways a welcome boost, especially in Austria and Sweden.

Ultimately, months of negotiations yielded a budget deal with strong links to environmental policies. Much of that success was down to France, Germany and other countries pushing for the recovery to have a green tinge to it:

France, Germany join group of 10 EU countries calling for green recovery

Paris and Berlin have added their names to a growing list of EU capitals asking for the European Green Deal to be placed at the heart of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan.

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 🌍  Global futures 📱 

There was an undoubted global flavour to the last six months. Police brutality in Europe was pushed into the limelight as protests spread across the Atlantic. That made the news that EU police forces would deploy anti-drone guns – illegal even in the US – all the more worrying.

The Commission’s industrial strategy aimed to keep Europe competitive internationally, in everything from 6G to pharmaceuticals, while a new artificial intelligence plan is all about keeping ‘high risk’ AI in check.

NATO scrambled to react to Macron’s “brain death” appraisal, while the US decided to withdraw troops from Germany, in what is still a developing story. The Open Skies treaty was the latest pact to suffer Washington’s proclivity towards ditching agreements.

Europe and the rest of the world also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which risks being forgotten by future generations and as a result could, sadly, be repeated elsewhere.

Greece and Turkey have remained at loggerheads throughout the year, Bulgaria’s prime minister was spotted sleeping with a gun next to his bed and Montenegro took another step towards EU membership. They had better hurry up though, as Doomsday may be close…

Doomsday Clock: 100 seconds until the end of the world

Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists annually adjusts its symbolic Doomsday Clock, which indicates how close humanity and the planet are to complete disaster. This year, we’re closer than ever, the scientists announced on Thursday (23 January).

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🚜  Agricultural well-being 🌡️ 

A new EU food strategy – the Farm to Fork – aimed to make agriculture more sustainable, prompting reactions across the board. It may boost environmental concerns to the top of the agenda, while the rise of lab-grown meat continues and may forever change the way we eat.

Italy’s struggle against crop pests continued and a novel weapon was deployed against ‘diehard stink bugs’, while struggling beekeepers are still being undercut by cheap honey imports. German slaughterhouses were on the frontlines of the virus outbreak.

EURACTIV was the first to break the news of a coronavirus infection in the EU institutions and that report – forgive the pun – went viral. The Commission has also moved to try and entice pharmaceutical production back to Europe. Only time will tell if that will pay off.

The agrifood and health team also produced some interesting Special Reports on rare diseases, innovation in agriculture, organ donation and bioeconomy, which should make good pool-side reading.

Farm to Fork Strategy – What's on the menu?

In this special edition of the agrifood podcast, EURACTIV’s agrifood team spoke to a range of policymakers and stakeholders to hear their remarks on the presentation of the highly anticipated Farm to Fork strategy, the new EU’s landmark food policy

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🎥  Video and the radio stars 🎙️

Multimedia production kicked up a notch at EURACTIV. We brought you weekly bite-sized updates on transport throughout quarantine, Tweets of the Week continued its latest season and new podcasts on Agrifood and Digital matters successfully launched.

Check out our interviews with global leaders like Latvian defence minister Artis Pabriks, NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg and Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, as well as our explainer about Germany’s shift in charge of the EU presidency.

Brexit also remained relevant, with issues ranging from fishing to EU pensions, so we did our best to explain it as part of our ongoing Translating Europe series:

The Brexit stalemate explained

Nearly four years after the UK voted to leave the European Union, we are back to a familiar conundrum: deal or no deal. Except that this time we are talking about the trade agreement that will govern future EU-UK relations.

On that note, we bid you farewell until business resumes on 17 August with a series of articles looking at what is coming up in all areas of EU policy.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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