One investigation takes an inside look at the EU process for approving COVID-19 drugs. Another exposes the dirty secrets of a French dairy goliath. Two more hold the EU border agency’s feet to the fire.

As a slew of IJ4EU-supported investigations prepare to go to press, cross-border teams that were early off the mark have already made headlines in Europe and beyond.

In 2020, the IJ4EU fund awarded €1.07 million to 49 teams under two grant schemes: the Investigation Support Scheme for new projects and the Publication Support Scheme for ongoing investigations.

Here are some of the fruits of those projects, with many more to come.

Behind the Pledge

First, they revealed how Europeans came to pay through the nose for a COVID-19 drug whose effectiveness was unproven. Then they showed how Brussels pressured the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to issue speedy approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a time when there were unresolved questions from EMA scientists.

Leaked documents show that the EMA does not appear to have given in to the pressure and that the unresolved questions were subsequently addressed.

The investigation has made headlines in outlets as diverse as Il Fatto Quotidiano, Rai, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde, Business Insider and The British Medical Journal.

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Meanwhile, a separate IJ4EU team has published the first in a series of stories looking at who is cashing in on COVID-19 spending, with articles in Vox and Il Fatto Quotidiano. Watch this space for more on that investigation.

The ‘Milk Ogre’

This four-part investigation into French dairy giant Lactalis exposes alleged wrongdoing on an industrial scale: failings in food safety, massive pollution of rivers, the dissimulation of information, large-scale tax evasion and a hunting down of whistle-blowers.

The project prompted France Nature Environnement, a federation of environmental associations, to file a complaint against the company, while the French government has introduced ecocide as an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to €4.5 million.

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Frontex at Fault

Fallout a-plenty from this investigation by Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi into allegations of wrongdoing by Frontex, the EU border agency. Frontex’s chief even faces pressure to step down.

Revealing Frontex complicity in illegal maritime “pushbacks” to drive away refugees and migrants trying to enter the EU, the project has prompted two extraordinary Frontex management board meetings; a Frontex pledge to reform and bolster its human rights monitoring mechanisms; a hearing of the Frontex director before the European Parliament; and an unprecedented pledge by the Greek government to do a thorough investigation. The agency is under investigation by Olaf, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog.

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Meanwhile, a separate IJ4EU-funded investigation has just published…

The Frontex Files

A team of six journalists and researchers from five countries has exposed secret lobbying of the EU border agency, which has flatly said: “Frontex does not meet with lobbyists.” Analysis of 142 documents from 16 industry meetings that Frontex held between 2017 and 2019 shows that it does, with arms manufacturers like Glock, Airbus and Heckler & Koch at the front of the queue.

The journalists teamed up with Jan Böhmermann, host of Germany’s late-night satirical investigative show ZDF Magazin Royale, to lay out the findings in a TV piece that also references the “Frontex at Fault” exposé above. You can access the original documents here:

The journalists and researchers have also published a string of articles probing allegations of rights violations by the agency, with more stories to come.

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Reaping the Harvest

This collaboration between Irish investigative platform Noteworthy and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network is a powerful exposé of hardship, low pay and mismanaged labour policies for eastern European migrants working in Ireland’s horticultural sector.

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Cashing in on a Cashless Society

An international team of freelancers probes the private and public interests at stake in a society where cash is no longer king in this investigation supported by the Publication Support Scheme.

Exposing a clash between data protection, democratic values and business interests, the project reveals that the erosion of cash as a means of payment in Europe has more to do with powerful lobbying interests than an inevitable move towards a digital society.

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Money to Burn

For three months, a cross-border team put everything related to Europe’s supposedly sustainable biomass trade under the microscope, from subsidies and certifications to a powerful European lobby. The result: a pan-European story about the effect of Western European subsidies on Estonia’s forests.

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An Epidemic of Gambling

The pandemic has created an epidemic of online gambling as lockdown isolation and a lack of social support fuel a dangerous addiction. This cross-border investigation reveals an under-reported crisis taking place in a home near you.

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The Kočner Library

A sensational murder trial, a notorious oligarch and 57 terabytes of data. Those are the ingredients of this crime-thriller investigation into high-level corruption and financial malfeasance. In partnership with six major Slovak and Czech media outlets, the team produced 15 investigative stories that reached millions of viewers.

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Europe in the Gas Trap

The EU’s climate goals are clear: reach climate neutrality by the year 2050 and limit warming to two degrees Celsius or less. Nonetheless, natural gas projects are being planned and built all over Europe.

Investigate Europe digs into gas investments to understand why Europe is once again acting against its own climate ambitions.

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More investigations coming soon…