On Monday 18 February, the Sun published this article which it chose not to include on its website. It provides an interesting and not untypical case study in the way certain media – and far from only the Sun – tend to deal with EU stories.
£3bn for bananas
“BRUSSELS is handing out BILLIONS to banana, tobacco and rum industries on paradise isles, it was revealed yesterday.
Nearly £3.5 billion of taxpayers’ cash has been used to subsidise farmers in the EU’s “outermost” regions like the Azores and the Canaries.
And the spending is set to rise by over £50 million to £625 million a year.
Pressure group Get Britain Out said many of the islands had a higher standard of living than some big EU countries.
The Canary Islands’ average income is £16,200 per head, while the figure in Poland is £13, 530.”
The article followed the European Parliament’s vote on 5 February to increase by about £35m EU funding under the POSEI scheme* for 2013 for overseas regions of France, Spain and Portugal – for example the Canaries, the French West Indies and the Azores.
The agreement on this one-off extra funding (regular annual funding has not been increased, contrary to the implication in the article) had previously been endorsed after long negotiation by a qualified (i.e. large) majority of the 27 relevant national ministers.
The Sun’s headline referring to “£3bn for bananas” is not accurate.
Support for banana farmers makes up about 43% of the total POSEI funding.
The rest supports local farming and processing of all other types of food products – crops, livestock and dairy – and also helps fund the high costs of transporting food products into the remote regions concerned.
The £3.5 bn figure the paper goes on to give in the text would seem to correspond approximately to the total POSEI funding that all the regions concerned put together are eligible to receive from 2007-13. Approximately £1.5 bn of this – and not £3bn – is therefore being invested in supporting banana production.
The Sun asked us for a quote before it published the story. We provided the one below in plenty of time for publication, but the paper did not use or reflect any of it:
“These regions are parts of the EU which suffer from serious deprivation and poverty. Unemployment in the Canary Islands is 34%, well above even the high Spanish average. They are heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism – like regions of the UK and other EU countries that also get significant EU funding, for example Cornwall, which has received around £900m since 2000.”
The Sun’s article was labelled “EXCLUSIVE” – an unusual description for an article based on a public vote two weeks previously by an elected parliament.
What is more, another UK newspaper had come with us with the same story several days earlier. It asked us to respond to some earlier quotes, apparently from the “Get Britain Out” pressure group (GBO) referred to in the Sun’s article.
Those quotes included references to the regions concerned as “colonies” and objections to the EU spending money in “popular tourist destinations”. We pointed out that “popular tourist destinations” all over the EU, not least the UK, were also eligible for EU funding of various sorts. The first newspaper, it seems, decided not to print the story, leaving the field clear for the Sun’s “Exclusive”.
The Sun story goes on to say that “Brussels is handing out BILLIONS (Sun’s bold) to banana, tobacco and rum industries on paradise isles, it was revealed yesterday”.
It is rather difficult to see how any of this could have been “revealed yesterday”. General figures for the POSEI funding have been publicly available since 2006. Even the European Parliament vote slightly amending the amount dates from nearly two weeks before the Sun’s article.
The Sun ignored the unemployment statistic we provided, preferring instead to use a comparison of national income per head between the Canary Islands and Poland, which seems to be shoehorned into the article purely to illustrate the point made in the previous paragraph by GBO that “many of the islands had a higher standard of living than some big EU countries”.
The above point is of limited pertinence given that:
– most of the regions covered by the funding the Sun is criticising (Canary Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique and more) are in fact part of “big EU countries” like Spain and France;
– both poorer EU countries like Poland and less well-off regions of generally richer countries – like Cornwall, as in the example we cited – also receive considerable specific EU funding of various sorts;
– farmers across the entire EU are eligible for EU support.
In any case it is striking that the Sun finds room to include the views of GBO and to select a statistic attempting to reinforce those views, while completely ignoring our input.
Of course, if the Sun wants to report that MEPs have voted to amend and increase funding for a long-established programme of support to the outermost regions and if it then wishes to criticise that step or question the justification for the programme itself, it is absolutely entitled to do so.
Neither do we seriously object if it chooses to imply that material publicly available for seven years has somehow been obtained exclusively by its sharp-eyed reporters.
But it should not have recourse to conflating statistics, loaded references to “paradise isles” and to the reproduction of lines fed to it by a single anti-EU lobby group, with no balancing opinion.
For completeness, we had also told the Sun that: “Support for banana farmers in these EU regions helps the ‘little guy’ – small producers of high quality bananas – to compete with US conglomerates and increases consumer choice. The EU – with UK support – also funds support for small banana farmers in the Commonwealth.”
We also provided the following details:
“On 5 February, the European Parliament – therefore elected representatives, not “EU bureaucrats” – voted by a large majority a compromise reached with the Member States and the Commission (579 votes in favour, 82 against and 35 abstentions) on POSEI funding for the outermost regions.
– agreeing on Commission proposals to modernise the framework for funding for the outermost regions, to make the objectives clearer and increase accountability;
– additional finance at a much lower and more time limited level than the European Parliament had originally proposed**, after the Commission and Member States refused to accept that original proposal;
– in particular, a one-off increase, for 2013 only, of EUR 40m for banana growers to give them time to adapt to new market conditions caused by free trade agreements between the EU and non-EU countries.”
*French acronym for “Programme d’Options Spécifiques à l’Éloignement et l’Insularité”
** The EP’s original proposal was for an increase of the annual POSEI allocations by €70.