Sunday, December 19, 2004

Top news stories of 2004

In an effort to get away from the obsessions of the British media – Blunkett and Beckham with attached partners, children etc – I (for my colleague is still “indisposed”) looked at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty site.

They conducted an unofficial poll among “broadcasters, editors, correspondents and analysts” to find the top 10 news stories of the year. The list seemed interesting enough to be reproduced on this blog.

Starting from the bottom as is proper with news and beauty contests, we get the world’s most expensive Olympics in Athens weighing in at number 10. RFE/RL, I am glad to say, also managed to refer to one of the most interesting aspects of the Games, the presence of an Afghanistani team, which included women athletes. I do not recall much discussion of that in the British media or of any serious appreciation as to how that was made possible.

At number 9, we have Darfur and the American announcement that they considered this to be genocide. This is particularly poignant as news comes in that once again, the Sudan armies and militias are ignoring the deadlines on disarming.

Number 8 is the dollar’s decline, blamed by some experts on the huge trade and budget deficit. Europe is fretting about the effect that might have on its own economies.

Story number 7 is the Madrid bombing and the subsequent electoral upset with all the attendant consequences. (Incidentally, am I still the only person who is wondering how a dozen or so backpacks could have been left lying around the underground system without a single report being made to the police?)

Number 6 is the EU enlargement on May 1 and number 5 is the handing over power to the Iraqi interim government, led by Iyad Allawi, who addressed Congress to convey his thanks to the American people.

Number 4 is the death of Yasser Arafat, which may well give the necessary impetus to the Middle East peace process, which may finally stop being a process (a weasel word if ever there was one) and become reality.

The three top stories line up as follows:

Number 3 is the American election with President Bush winning a comfortable majority for a second term.

Number 2 is the shocking massacre of children in Beslan, still not properly investigated, and the beginning of a Russia’s rapid spiralling down into autocracy.

Number 1 is the Ukrainian election earlier this month and the stunning popular victory in the achievement of a second run-off.

As ever with lists, people might disagree, not so much with the actual stories but with the order they are placed in. But what struck me very forcibly is how little any of them had to do with the EU. The only definitely EU story is enlargement. Otherwise that great and good body that is supposed to put Europe on the map and make it enormously important appears negatively: it is worried about the slide of the dollar.

Individual European countries do appear: Spain, of course, Greece in a slightly indeterminate fashion, Poland and the Baltic states behind the scenes in the Ukrainian crisis, but not the European Union. How can one account for this?

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