Wednesday, March 22

The European Commission threatens Spain with economic sanctions if the illegal irrigation of Doñana is pardoned

The bill that PP, Cs and Vox will defend next week in the Andalusian Parliament to amnesty 1,460 illegal hectares of irrigated land in the Doñana area is on its way to becoming an international problem of considerable caliber. After a first warning on the matter by UNESCO, which granted this environment the status of a World Heritage Site, now it is the European Commission that makes a harsh warning to the Spanish authorities: it threatens to file a complaint again before the European Court of Justice and impose economic sanctions.

Neither the Strawberry Plan nor the closure of wells stop the looting of water in Doñana

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The notice is contained in a letter that the Director General for the Environment of the European Commission, Florika Fink-Hooijer, has sent to the permanent ambassador of Spain to the European Union, Marcos Alonso, in which she expresses her “deep concern about the possible repercussions” that this initiative will have, which seeks to modify the Forestry Law and, above all, the Special Management Plan for the irrigated areas located to the north of the Doñana Forest Crown, approved in 2014 by the Board and better known as the Strawberry Plan. The fear is that the regularization of these crops that are irrigated illegally, depleting the aquifer that feeds the National Park “could increase the current levels of underground water extraction for irrigation.”

The letter comes as a wake-up call to the State to stop this legislative initiative, which will worsen the situation of an aquifer that is in poor condition, in fact it is officially declared overexploited. And it also shows concern about “the risk that a new regularization of irrigated areas has a pull effect that generates greater adverse impacts on the quantitative status of groundwater bodies” in this environment.

Adverse effects on Doñana ecosystems

Fink-Hooijer emphasizes “the importance that the Commission attaches to the conservation of Doñana and the habitats it houses”, to the point that he considers that “its exceptional value transcends the European sphere”. And he contrasts the spirit of this bill (backed by the Junta de Andalucía) with the fact that “available scientific and technical knowledge provides solid evidence of the adverse effects of the overexploitation of groundwater on Doñana’s ecosystems” . The central Executive has already expressed itself along these lines, reiterating that in no way will there be more water for irrigation and that the legislative initiative is “a hoax” for farmers by generating “false expectations.

The general director considers that, if the procedure is successful, this regulation will collide with the obligations imposed on Spain by the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive. And she stops at what is the cornerstone of the letter, which is to remind the Spanish Government of the ruling of the European Court of Justice that in June 2021 condemned Spain for not protecting Doñana from the plundering of water.

Already, the European Commission warns that it is analyzing whether Spain is complying with what is imposed by the court ruling and for now it does not have all of them, because “we have not yet concluded that all the measures are being applied to achieve conformity with the sentence.” For this reason, “it is disconcerting to say the least” that Spain – in this case the Andalusian Executive – “is contemplating the adoption of measures that would aggravate the situation and seriously jeopardize compliance with the judgment of the Court of Justice.”

Doubts about “respect for the rule of law”

In other words, instead of adopting measures aimed at reducing water consumption and thus helping to recover the aquifer, as imposed by the ruling, a measure is on the table that will worsen the current situation. The slap on the wrist continues because it considers that this “raises questions regarding respect for the rule of law by the Spanish authorities.” In parallel, it stresses that the Commission “grants high priority” to cases in which a judgment of the European Court of Justice is not complied with. And the bill, he points out, goes exactly in the opposite direction, since it aggravates the situation of Doñana instead of improving it as required by the ruling.

Fink-Hooijer points out to the Spanish ambassador that he is “obliged to warn him” that the Commission “is willing to make use without any delay” of the instruments that guarantee that the sentence is complied with, it is mandatory to safeguard the waters of Doñana. And he explicitly points out the next step that will be taken: go back to the Court of Justice, “which would entail the request for the imposition of financial sanctions.”

WWF threatens with a review of European investments

The Commission’s Director General for the Environment did not take long to react to the letter environmental organization WWF, since he considers that he agrees with him in his warning about the risk that this bill poses for Doñana. In this sense, he considers “a real recklessness” that the Andalusian president, Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla, maintains his intention to regularize “the illegals of Doñana”, basically dedicated to the cultivation of red fruits.

This, he assures, “could lead to strong economic sanctions that will be assumed by all the citizens of Andalusia and that could even question the Next Generation funds for the community. In this sense, the general secretary of the WWF, Juan Carlos del Olmo, points out that ” the European Commission is fed up with deceit with Doñana”, and announces that WWF is considering the possibility of requesting from this body an examination of the European funds applied in this environment “to guarantee that they have not been applied in farms without guarantees of legal use of the land and of the water.”