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You decide: what is Europe’s most obscure cash flow?

Billions of euros flow through Europe every year, from international trade to EU subsidies. Who monitors what happens to all that money? We are asking for your assistance: submit a research proposal or vote for someone else’s and have a say in what we investigate.

When necessary, the European Union Member States open their coffers to meet international challenges. In Brussels, for example, billions were allocated to help the European economy recover from the pandemic. And since the war in Ukraine, billions have been set aside to wean the EU off Russian gas.

If we wish to scrutinise European money flows, then it’s logical to focus on Brussels first. The lion’s share of the 170 billion euros in the European budget is paid for by the Member States themselves – and thus by the European taxpayers. Some of that money flows full circle in the form of subsidies for agriculture, energy, research and innovation, immigration, etc. Thousands of lobbyists from corporations, NGOs, and (local) governments are active in Brussels to ensure that the money serves their interests.

But who monitors where the money ends up and whether it is used for its intended purpose?

It has not escaped the authorities’ notice that some of the parties competing for that money are flouting the rules. Not only defrauders are guilty of this: (local) governments and businesses are also not always as ethical as they should be. For this reason, the EU appointed an International Public Prosecutor (EPPO) last year and gave the European Police Office (Europol) a new, extended mandate.

The question remains as to whether that will be enough to plug the leaks in the subsidy pipelines. Tracing money flows might sound easy, but it’s not. Authorities have limited capacity, as several investigations in which Follow the Money was involved have shown. Take the international CumEx-fraud, in which bankers cheated European tax authorities out of tens of billions of euros. Or consider the fraudulent scheme of tampering with biodiesel licences across Europe.

The public decides

Follow the Money is asking for your assistance in uncovering these issues. We call on European citizens to ‘pitch’ a research proposal via FTM Pitch, a project that has already proven successful locally and nationally. You can participate even if you don’t have a proposal of your own by voting for your favourite proposal submitted by someone else. The pitch theme: what is Europe’s most obscure cash flow? Which underexposed grant, subsidy, or other transaction do you feel deserves a real Follow-the-Money investigation?

Anyone can submit a proposal, but pitching something is more than just tossing a tip or an idea our way. We expect a well-argued – and above all, substantiated – proposal. What do you want to have us expose? Who can be of assistance? Why should we investigate your pitch? What do you think makes it an interesting proposal? Experience shows that the more substantiated your pitch, the more likely your proposal is to gain support from other readers.

Readers can comment on the pitches, add to them, and offer to assist in perfecting them. This way, we make an idea better by collaboration. Of course, you can promote your own proposal via social media and seek support that way. To do so, use the hashtag #PitchEurope on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

Apart from submitting your proposal or supporting someone else’s, you can offer another pitcher your services, for example, if you are an expert on the subject or have some tips.

Did your proposal win? Then Follow the Money will run with it. If the proposal warrants it, we will ask our European colleagues to partake. This way, the investigation can be carried out on the largest possible scale, and together we will create journalism in the interest of the  European public.

Do you have an idea, or are you curious about other people’s ideas? Then take a look here.

Why a Pitch?

At FTM, we cannot complain about a lack of tips from our readers. Every day, we receive phone calls, e-mails or visits from people who want to share their dissatisfaction, suspicions, or questions. Occasionally, even the proverbial plastic shopping bag containing documents is left at the door.

We are happy to receive them, of course, but to be honest, we cannot always use them. Sometimes, the subject is not within our scope, and other times, after a few checks, it turns out the issue is not quite what it seemed to be. Occasionally, the tip hits the mark perfectly.

An engaged audience is an important cornerstone of any medium, including investigative journalism platforms like Follow the Money. It helps us immensely if the ideas are collected in a structured way, and FTM Pitch makes that possible.

In 2018, we started experimenting by giving our members and readers a say in what we investigate. We organised FTM Pitch for this purpose: an interactive process in which our audience can submit well-argued research proposals and vote on those pitches. The person who gets the most support for their proposal wins.

The first Pitch was a great success. More than 50 proposals were submitted, of which we were able to present 47. We then held three more Pitches, each time on a local scale. These were also successful; one Pitch resulted in as many as 125 proposals.

Last year, we decided to expand the concept and organised a national pitch. That also yielded an excellent result: 122 proposals. The winning proposal (with 365 votes) resulted in a series of in-depth articles on a matter close to many Dutch people’s hearts: the most beautiful places along the Dutch coast being sold off to large holiday-park developers.

Due to this success, we have decided to organise an international Pitch for the first time.

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