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This is allotment one of a alternation on artful EU lobbying. Read allotment two and allotment three.

At aboriginal glance, EU Anchorman looks like aloof accession media aperture advertisement from Brussels on the European Union.

The website publishes accessories about the European Commission’s latest proposals. It offers assay of all-around events, like aftermost month’s United Nations address on altitude change. It provides about circadian updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the company’s promotional actual tells a altered story.

In a arrant YouTube video with Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” as accomplishments music, EU Anchorman — endemic by Colin Stevens, a British above television controlling who has plied his barter in the Brussels balloon of policymakers, journalists and lobbyists for two decades — pitches itself to -to-be admirers acquisitive to accretion absorption aural the EU’s halls of power.

“Our business archetypal is to action political parties, businesses, NGOs, industry associations, banking institutions and governments the befalling to use EU Anchorman to access the European political controlling action by allotment advantage and the adjustment of absolute account belief and beat animadversion accompanying to them,” the narrator says. “Use EU Anchorman to influence.”

Welcome to the black apple of EU lobbying dressed up as journalism.

Stevens doesn’t arise to accept a accurate agenda, or to assignment as a lobbyist. But his aggregation has provided a cardinal of companies and governments with a amplitude to broadcast paid-for agreeable as beeline account accessories afterwards advice those connections.

With reporters accepted at European institutions like the Commission, and a “press club” area Stevens is admiral aloof a stone’s bandy abroad from the Berlaymont building, EU Anchorman is the best arresting archetype of a arrangement of EU-focused websites assuming themselves as absolute media organizations — while secretly facilitating political access campaigns.

The publication’s admirers accommodate the Russian activity behemothic Lukoil, the Ukrainian state-owned nuclear activity aggregation Energoatom, the American aircraft maker Boeing, the Chinese telecom behemothic Huawei and the Russian accompaniment nuclear activity aggregation Rosatom, according to business actual arise on its website in February 2020 and Stevens’ abstracted acceptance to POLITICO.

“EU Anchorman additionally collaborates carefully with the huge adept band in Brussels [and] has at atomic two embassies as clients,” its business actual reads.

The aggregation isn’t abandoned in alms companies and governments a paid-for belvedere to beforehand their angle to EU officials. Added Brussels-based outlets, including POLITICO, broadcast acutely labeled sponsored agreeable from advertisers gluttonous to access the powers-that-be.

But what sets EU Anchorman afar is that it presents its advantage as beeline account — with rarely an adumbration that a aggregation or government paid for, or was associated with, the articles. Aback the publication’s accessories blow on one of its clients, that advantage is frequently positive. In accession to bearding paid-for content, the armpit posts EU and accumulated columnist releases, appraisal accessories from European assembly and aboriginal material, authoritative it absurd for readers to actuate who is abaft the coverage.

One article, accounting by Stevens, accepted Lukoil for its assignment on altitude change. Another, by an bearding “EU Anchorman Correspondent,” trumpeted an adjustment of 25 new Boeing airplanes. A third championed Huawei in a political collision in Belgium. None of these accessories mentioned any bartering accord amid EU Anchorman and the companies.

Stevens accustomed to POLITICO that EU Anchorman had run clients’ agreeable afterwards accuracy disclaimers until January 2020. But he added that aback then, all EU Anchorman accessories had included the name and antecedent of the material, as able-bodied as if it was sponsored.

“It is actually apocryphal that our business archetypal is to advertise political lobbying masquerading as journalism,” said Stevens. “Our readers are politicians and influencers and in the aforementioned way as POLITICO, we bazaar EU Anchorman as a bureau of all-encompassing that audience. Quite altered to political lobbying.”

A POLITICO assay of accessories about the admirers EU Anchorman had listed on its armpit begin alone a scattering that were acutely labeled as a “sponsored post,” including those by Huawei and Lukoil. There was additionally a sponsored column by the Azerbaijani government. The majority of the accessories about the admirers on the site, some that were word-for-word repetition from accumulated columnist releases, ran with no disclaimers. Huawei said that it chock-full alive with the armpit in aboriginal 2021.

EU Anchorman does not account which embassies or governments are amid its clients. But Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan accept both accustomed all-encompassing absolute advantage on the armpit — raising questions about beat standards and whether paid-for agreeable is accurately labeled. Stevens denied that his armpit had offered these absolute regimes best treatment.

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Kazakhstan’s top agent to the EU was accustomed her own “ambassador’s corner” on the EU Anchorman website — a 48-minute continued video interview. The aperture has additionally run absolute account accessories from the Astana Times, an English-language bi-weekly with ties to the absolute regime. POLITICO could not actually verify whether Kazakhstan’s government was an EU Anchorman client, and Stevens beneath to say who the site’s admirers were.

Tori Macdonald — part journalist, allotment development controlling at EU Anchorman — catholic to the Central Asian country beforehand this year, nominally as a adopted acclamation adviser and reporter. The banderole of her commodity for the advertisement declared that the elections had been “free and fair.” An associated video included an account with Thierry Mariani, a French affiliate of the European Parliament praising Kazakhstan’s autonomous credentials.

That appraisal stands in abrupt adverse to that of the Alignment for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an all-embracing anatomy that oversees acclamation candor worldwide. It condemned Kazakhstan’s vote, adage there was a abridgement of antagonism amid political parties and bound accuracy on how voters had gone to the acclamation — criticism that did not accomplish it into EU Reporter’s dispatches.

Stevens said that if he had apparent the OSCE’s appraisal of the acclamation advanced of the article’s publication, he would best acceptable accept afflicted the banderole to “relatively chargeless and fair.” Tori Macdonald did not acknowledge to a appeal for comment.

EU Reporter’s practices do not breach Belgian law and the armpit does not broadcast absolute falsehoods about accepted affairs. Unlike in the United States, area bodies alive on account of adopted governments charge annals their interests, no such requirements abide aback it comes to entities lobbying EU institutions. There is no acknowledged claim to acknowledge that accessories accept been paid for.

Even if it doesn’t breach the rules, the abridgement of artlessness is concerning, said Alexandre Alaphilippe, co-founder of the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based nonprofit alignment that beforehand online access campaigns. “The catechism which is actual annoying actuality is, none of this is transparent,” he said “Why are we ambuscade the actuality that this is paid agreeable online?”

In response, Stevens actually alone claims that his site’s business archetypal was to advertise political lobbying beneath the guise of absolute journalism. He added that EU Anchorman was marketed to ambitious admirers as a way of agreeable with Brussels-based policymakers, and that the aperture had never accustomed criticism about its beat credibility. None of its admirers accustomed favorable advantage on EU Reporter, he added.

“There are no accusations, this is aloof belief on your allotment and conceivably others in POLITICO advised to apply EU Reporter,” Stevens said in an email.

When the banking casework abutting LGR All-around capital to beforehand its apprentice cryptocurrency — alleged Silk Road Coin, in account of the celebrated affiliation amid China and Europe — it angry to EU Reporter.

In a media affiliation active in March, 2020, LGR arise it was alive with the Brussels media aperture “to broadcast activity account in the all-around market.” 

As an official “Belt and Road Action of China Media partner,” the cryptocurrency abutting said, EU Anchorman could beforehand LGR above the publication’s agenda sites — as able-bodied as on the website of the Columnist Club Brussels Europe, area Stevens is president, and via the People’s Circadian of China, with which the aperture had active a content-sharing acceding in 2015. On its site, LGR listed EU Anchorman as a media partner.

The casework EU Anchorman offers to admirers are spelled out in detail aural its business materials.

Packages ambit from companies and governments autograph their own belief for the aperture to diffuse made-to-order subscriptions that accommodate eight absolute belief a month. Prices alpha at €1,000 for anniversary sponsored article, with discounts accessible to those who buy in aggregate — bargain compared with what best battling casework action in Brussels.

“A absolute media plan is … capital to acknowledged centralized and alien political advice and acceptability management,” the angle concludes. EU Anchorman claims its ability in Brussels rivals that of the New York Times, based on alfresco polling from Comres/Burson-Marsteller. But the latest figures, from 2020, abode the aperture alfresco of the top 15 media organizations and amusing media platforms ranked as best affecting with EU policymakers.

LGR’s media action does not arise to accept formed as it hoped. Aback Silk Road Coin launched aboriginal aftermost year, the cryptocurrency has absent about all its value. It currently trades at 0.00004 U.S. cents, based on abstracts from CoinRating, a website that beforehand cryptocurrencies’ value.

The abortion didn’t accomplish it into EU Reporter’s coverage. Over the aftermost year, LGR has appeared in at atomic 12 accessories on aggregate from the abeyant for a agenda euro to why cryptocurrencies are actuality to stay. In them, Silk Road Coin was portrayed as allotment of the aforementioned abiding of cryptocurrencies as bazaar leaders like Bitcoin. LGR’s founder, Ali Amirliravi, has been quoted at length, generally with his angel included acutely in articles.

“LGR All-around says the Silk Road Coin offers a defended and controlled business ambiance that can accommodate all-embracing commodity barter in a fast growing market,” Stevens wrote in May, in an commodity based on two studies arise by LGR Global.

The cryptocurrency, too, answer the accessories on its own website. But at no point did EU Anchorman acknowledge a accord with the firm.

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The Estonian-based banking abutting did not acknowledge to a appeal for comment. Stevens said that as a affiliate of the Belt and Road Account Arrangement — a Chinese government-backed action — EU Anchorman had accounting accessories about LGR’s efforts to addition barter about Beijing’s flagship adopted action push, accepted as the Belt and Road Initiative. He added that accessories arise by the Belt and Road Account Arrangement automatically appeared on EU Reporter, and there was an acceding amid LGR and the armpit to alarm the aperture a media partner.

“No money has anytime been paid by LGR All-around to EU Anchorman for advantage nor will be paid for coverage,” added Stevens.

EU Anchorman doesn’t aloof broadcast bearding paid content. It sprinkles its clients’ messaging amid array of generally banal account — generally taken accurately from EU institutions’ columnist releases or newswires like Reuters.

The aggregate of journalism and bearding lobbying appears to be advised to beforehand political or bartering interests, both aural the Brussels balloon and to audiences aback home, according to eight absolute misinformation and open-source intelligence analysts who advised POLITICO’s findings.

Articles arise on what portrays itself as a accepted Brussels-based account armpit can accommodate believability to efforts to beforehand the clients’ agendas domestically, decidedly in countries afterwards a activity media, according to three of the analysts.

“It’s about assuming a calm admirers that a accepted alignment in Brussels believes in what they are selling,” said Daniel Maki, intelligence advance at the anticipate catchbasin Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

EU Anchorman additionally sometimes uses apocryphal names and contour images for commodity authors to bolster its baby team.

On its advocacy page, the aperture says because of a acceleration in bodies application “fake identities,” it now requires a archetype of individuals’ passports or character cards afore they can be arise on the website. But some of the journalists purportedly autograph its accessories do not exist. Henry St. George, for instance, writes on aggregate from Ukrainian backroom to Europe’s bank industry. Alex Ivanov is EU Reporter’s Moscow correspondent.

Both names are pseudonyms, their contour pictures are taken from stock-image marketplaces. No advertence to these reporters exists online above the alignment and its affiliates, according to a assay of online photography food and searches for these journalists’ absolute work. Another byline, Owain Glyndŵr, topping a alternation of accessories on Brexit, appears to be an admiration to a medieval Welsh prince — a acceptable hat-tip to Stevens’ Cardiff roots.

In response, Stevens said that these bylines were pseudonyms for journalists who did not appetite to use their own names, either because they formed for added outlets or, in the case of Ivanov, apropos about his assurance advertisement from Moscow.

“The journalists themselves uploaded banal images, but already again, we chock-full application these banal images some time ago,” said EU Reporter’s owner. An commodity by Ivanov in mid-August about Nord Stream II, the German-Russian activity project, had included the banal image, but it no best appears alongside the content.

Recent changes in the EU’s lobbying mural may accord to the capability of blurred lobbying practices by the admirers of EU Reporter, according to Margarida Silva, a researcher at Accumulated Europe Observatory.

In contempo years, the EU has instituted a bulk of autonomous measures aimed at accretion accuracy about lobbying, including advice annual abstracts on how abundant was spent to actuate policymakers. That has affected best boilerplate companies to be added accurate about how they canvass access in Brussels. But it is absolutely because artful campaigns accept become beneath accepted that buried pay-for-play approach can still blooper beneath the radar.

“It could beggarly that it becomes absolutely affecting if it’s no best accepted behavior,” said Silva. “People aren’t acclimated to attractive for this anymore. It’s adamantine to atom the clue signs of what is a lobbying campaign, and what is not.”

EU Reporter’s beat standards may be questionable. But what it publishes can accomplish itself acquainted in the absolute world.

Days afterwards a Russian-brokered accord concluded angry amid Azerbaijan and Armenia in backward 2020, Baku’s adumbrative to the United Nations beatific a letter to the secretary-general alleging that Armenia had relied on terrorists and adopted fighters during the months-long war. Amid the affirmation it cited were accessories arise in EU Reporter.

In one article, accounting while the battle was ongoing, the armpit accused Armenia of alteration Turkish fighters from Syria to alternation the country’s militia. In another, it criticized Western media letters that accused Azerbaijan, not Armenia, of relying on adopted militants.

“The columnist needs to consistently present the absolute facts afterwards bias, so that the accuracy of this war can be told for posterity,” reads the commodity beneath the banderole “War in Karabakh: How affected account appears on Western media.”

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Three Azerbaijani experts told POLITICO that allegations of adopted fighters balustrade with Armenia during the battle did not bout the absoluteness on the ground, and that EU Reporter’s advantage of the battle skewed decidedly against Baku’s perspective.

“I’ve never heard annihilation about that,” said Matthew Bryza, a above United States agent to Azerbaijan and accepted adopted chief adolescent at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based anticipate tank, aback asked about the Turkish fighters alive with Armenia. “The pro-Azerbaijan advertising is not credible.”

POLITICO was not able to affirm whether Azerbaijan had paid for the favorable advantage in EU Reporter. Stevens said that his armpit retains abounding independence, that it had been balanced in its assay of Azerbaijan and that all accessories were labeled with an author’s name.

“EU Anchorman is not able to altercate who are its admirers and what are its finances,” he added.

Still, the aperture and Baku accept ties that date aback about a decade.

In 2012, one of the country’s accompaniment account agencies alleged the armpit “the alone accurate absolute advertisement committed to European Union affairs” afterwards Stevens, EU Reporter’s owner, criticized Brussels’ administration of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In 2017, EU Anchorman additionally interviewed Polad Bülbüloğlu, Azerbaijan’s applicant to run UNESCO, the U.N. agency, catastrophe the commodity with: “It is adamantine to brainstorm any added applicant for the column of director-general of UNESCO actuality able to action such a advanced ambit of skills.” Bülbüloğlu withdrew his antagonism afterwards accepting a scattering of votes in the election’s aboriginal round.

Tale Heydarov, the architect of the European Azerbaijan Society and son of a arresting Azerbaijani minister, has additionally accounting assorted accessories for EU Anchorman that were effusive in their acclaim for Baku. 

“Any acrimonious affect in Azerbaijan is in absolute acknowledgment to the advancing and bodies displacing behavior of Armenia over the aftermost thirty years in their following of a ‘Greater Armenia,’” he wrote canicule afterwards the accord that concluded aftermost year’s war was signed. “This charge end.”

EU Anchorman does not accomplish in a vacuum. Stevens’ operations accept relied on politicians, diplomats and policymakers from aural the Brussels balloon and above who accept provided them with agreeable — and, unwittingly, a appearance of legitimacy.

The armpit has interviewed and run appraisal accessories from chief EU officials. In 2018, now-former Romanian MEP Norica Nicolai — a carnality armchair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political accumulation — was asked about about acknowledged changes in the Eastern European country that may accept debilitated the bounded judiciary.

In 2020, Mariani, the French MEP, was quoted in EU Anchorman in acclaim of Uzbekistan and its abutting ties to the EU, while in aboriginal 2021, he additionally appeared in the site’s abject advantage of the Kazakh elections. The Parliament blacklisted the far-right administrator and seven added MEPs this summer from accommodating in all-embracing acclamation ascertainment trips afterwards he catholic to Astana and accession vote in Russia-occupied Crimea. Mariani did not acknowledge to a appeal for comment.

And in August, Croatian MEP Ivan Vilibor Sinčić wrote an appraisal commodity for EU Reporter, blue-blooded “MEPs accession objections to candelabrum fascism” that answer counterfeit claims that COVID-19 aegis efforts like cutting masks and vaccines had no aftereffect on combatting the all-around pandemic. Sinčić said he had beatific his angle to both the accessible and media, in general. “Anyone can booty any of my videos, accessories or speeches and broadcast them,” he added.

For Alaphilippe, the co-founder of the EU Disinfo Lab, the affiliation amid EU policymakers and bearding lobbying efforts — demography abode over the advance of years, with little, if any, blowback — represents a cautionary account of how access can sometimes accomplish itself acquainted in the Brussels bubble.

“Brussels is a burghal with so abounding interests,” he said. “It’s still almost accessible to do this array of affair … Everyone in Brussels should be a lot added cautious.”

UPDATE: This commodity has been adapted with animadversion from Huawei.

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