Can investigative journalism be instrumental in the detection of and fight against corruption and fraud with EU funds, and if so, how?

A major study commissioned by the European Parliament to the Pascal Decroos Fund examines the extent and content of investigative reporting on European expenditures and revenue, and the effect and impact of investigative stories.

Our research, five-and-a-half months in the making, analyzed best practices and impediments and makes recommendations on how to expand investigative reporting, and thus enhance its critical role in deterring fraud and misappropriation.

It shows there are clear examples of the contribution journalists have made to greater transparency on this issue: tracking irregularities, fraud and corruption, and uncovering misspending on different levels and scales in the EU member states and the EU institutions.

Since the reasoning behind the wide variety in journalistic interest, enterprise and output on European spending is as multifaceted as Europe itself, so are the recommendations for enlarging the role of investigative journalism in tracing irregularities and fraud:

  • There is a loud call, from journalists and EU officials alike, for uniformity in gathering, cataloging, collecting, archiving and reporting of data, to be mandated by the European institutions and sanctioned for non-compliance.
  • Clear definitions and broad interpretation (in line with the Lisbon Treaty) of what constitutes a document, and a swift implementation of workable FOI laws across the Union are seen as imperative, as is systematic, proactive and centralised disclosure of data and documents in a manner that passes the ‘Grandma’ test (i.e.: accessible to all citizens).
  • There should be a larger role for the EU bodies in enabling, monitoring and when possible enforcing media pluralism (ownership), protection of sources and whistle-blowing rules, and press freedom in general.
  • The level of journalistic professionalism needs to be raised, through targeted training, presentation of best practices (of co-operation, skills and organizational models) and research into sustainable business models.
  • The emerging role of investigative centers in doing long-form, time-consuming and thus high-resource research such as tracking EU spending and revenue cannot be denied and should be further explored. Development of a central European ‘hub’ for generating, aiding and executing these projects should be considered.
  • Brussels bureaucracy, both in access to data and documents and in granting money to (journalistic) projects and organizations working in (the periphery of) the area of the financial workings of the EU should be reduced, to ensure transparency and speed of the granting and reporting process.
  • Finally, on both sides of the aisle, there is a drive for co-operation and collaboration. Journalists, against the grain, are sharing (re)sources, methodology, results and even scoops. These projects are simply too large and complex for one reporter or media outlet. On the other side, EU officials would like to explore wider possibilities for (regular) contact, (within legal and privacy possibilities) sharing of information and results and collaboration in deterring (mis)appropriation of EU money. Networks of officials at EU and national levels, journalists, academics and NGOs can and have to build trust and mutual understanding, creating an open environment for reporting on expenditure and revenue fraud.

With these recommendations in mind, sound investigative journalism dealing comprehensively with all types of EU spending could help citizens understand the added value of most of this spending, uncover hidden cases of misspending and fraud, and in the end have a preventive effect on certain cases of misspending and fraud. Investigative reporting’s findings could then help politicians, funds managers, prosecutors and legislators to take appropriate measures.

Author: Margo Smit

Read the whole study here: 'Deterrence of fraud with EU funds'

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