The legislative proposal of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox to legalize 1,461 hectares of irrigated land in the surroundings of the Doñana National Park has had a tremendous political cost for an Andalusian PSOE, still in the process of internal refoundation, in the run-up to the next elections. The initiative had enough votes with the three right-wing parties to begin its parliamentary process, however, it was the surprising abstention of the Andalusian Socialists, and an argument very close to that of President Juan Manuel Moreno, which has diverted the focus of attention towards his leader, Juan Swords.
The pardon for illegal irrigation in Doñana unleashes the war for water between farmers
“All of Europe and the whole world are watching us. If we don’t do this well, we can harm the entire province of Huelva,” warned Huelva deputy Mario Jiménez, last Wednesday in the Plenary Hall, minutes before the Parliament give the green light to the processing of the proposal. That Brussels “was watching” is shown by the preventive letter that the European Commission sent to the Government of Spain warning it of the legal repercussions if the Andalusian initiative prospered, and the million-dollar fines to which it was exposed for putting “the lung of Europe” at risk. , declared a World Heritage Site in 1994.
Unesco warned that this declaration, which provides Spain with a large sum of European funds, was in danger. And Huelva farmers with irrigation permits along with Doñana warned that losing the sustainability seal for Huelva’s red products could expel them from European markets, and that it would be used by their competitors to stigmatize the Andalusian strawberry brand.
The leader of the Andalusian PSOE, who had been speaking with the Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, for two months, was well aware of all this, and Mario Jiménez explained it this way in his parliamentary speech with an apocalyptic tone – “We are risking the international prestige of Doñana and the loss of reputation of the red fruits of Huelva in the European markets” – to finish by announcing the abstention of his group and “an opportunity for dialogue” with the right.
Votes against, in favor and abstentions
The project to pardon the irrigated lands of the northern crown of Doñana, which for years have illegally subtracted water from its very depleted aquifer, has completely unhinged the Socialists: in recent days they have voted in favor, against and have abstained , depending on the distance between the polling place and the National Park.
In Madrid, the Government of Sánchez and the federal leadership of the PSOE rejected the measure; The Guadalquivir Hydrographic Confederation, which would be responsible for endorsing the use of water in those pardoned hectares, reiterated ad nauseam that “there is no more water availability, because the aquifer is already overexploited, and the search for water resources on the surface is not viable. short term”. In Brussels, Socialist MEPs lined up against it.
In a written question released on Tuesday by the group of Socialists in the European Parliament, MEPs Clara Aguilera, Lina Gálvez (both former Board members), Javier López and César Luena called on the Commission to rule on the initiative processed by the Andalusian Parliament. “It supposes de facto the approval of a new special land use plan without the corresponding administrative procedure, which includes public information and environmental evaluation (…) and contravenes the procedures and regulations of the European Union,” reads the letter.
But much closer than Brussels, within the province of Huelva, the PSOE began to stumble into internal contradictions with Doñana. The socialists of Moguer and Lucena del Puerto, two of the municipalities where the illegal irrigation schemes are located, support the legislative initiative, and their mayors personally went to the Andalusian Parliament on Wednesday to defend it during the vote; instead, a day before, the socialists of Almonte had voted against the initiative and demanded the withdrawal of the plan. The majority of farmers with irrigation permits are concentrated in this municipality, and the municipal government is run by a localist party -Mesa de Convergencia- in coalition with the PSOE.
Last week, in the Huelva Provincial Council, which is chaired by the socialist María Eugenia Limón, the socialists also supported a motion in favor of the PP, Cs and Vox proposal (with amendments to the text), in which they defended giving “coverage to the surfaces not included in production in 2014 and that, without having committed illegality, can be incorporated” into the Huelva county irrigation plan. The so-called Plan de la Fresa, the planning of the territory approved by the previous Andalusian Government of the PSOE, “was not fine-tuned sufficiently” by authorizing irrigation in the northern crown of Doñana, because farmers who could “document their historical rights to access to water.
On Wednesday, the socialist group itself in the Andalusian Parliament was divided: hours before the vote, seven deputies had warned the leadership that it would be “a tremendous mistake” not to categorically reject the right-wing proposal.
Finally, the general secretary of the Andalusian PSOE resolved the dilemma by ordering its 33 deputies to abstain, who did not know the direction of the vote until just a few minutes before the vote. “The solution lies in the middle ground,” Swords would say, in an Aristotelian way, 24 hours later at the gates of Parliament. The Andalusian Socialists had hyperbolically condemned the measure – “a massive deception of farmers, cheap propaganda, an early electoral campaign by the Government of Juan Manuel Moreno and Vox” -, to end up announcing “an opportunity for dialogue”. Neither yes nor no. “You have to make decisions that are difficult and risky to explain,” the socialist leader would later admit, after receiving calls from the government and the federal leadership of his party accusing him that his decision was “incomprehensible and inexplicable.”
A “complex” debate on agriculture in Doñana
“Sustainability cannot be measured from a distance,” lament the Andalusian socialists, with undisguised irritation. The phrase sums up the whole mess. It is an underlying reproach to his party colleagues who, from Ferraz, from Moncloa and from Brussels, have harshly criticized the fact that the Andalusian PSOE, a party that has governed this land for 37 years, has adopted an “equidistant” position in a “matter of State”, as is Doñana, and with “international repercussions”. “In the county of Huelva there is a real problem, and if the government does not see that it exists, I will work to explain it to them,” said Espadas after the vote.
The leadership of the Andalusian PSOE believes that Moncloa and Ferraz are too far away to understand what is happening in the Andalusian countryside, where the children and grandchildren of farmers have changed the sociology of a sector that bills more than a billion euros a year, and where the discourse of the extreme right is penetrating with great strides. The province of Huelva concentrates 95% of the national production of berries – there are 11,740 hectares of red fruits planted, this year’s production will be around 350,000 tons and will reach an approximate value of more than 1,500 million euros, with 85% corresponding to exports, according to data from the employers’ association Freshuelva. “We are talking about 17-year-olds, children of farmers, who leave their plot and get into a BMW X6,” says a parliamentarian.
Mario Jiménez, the deputy who defended the abstention in the Chamber, belongs to the PSOE of Huelva and is from Moguer [21.700 habitantes], one of the Huelva municipalities with the most hectares of irrigated land subject to amnesty due to this legislative initiative. He knows the terrain and knows the environmental, economic and electoral implications of this “complex” debate. On Wednesday he was speaking from the Chamber’s rostrum to the farmers of his town, to mayors, councilors and representatives of agrarian organizations who had come to the guest rostrum to see what each party voted for.
Huelva is a niche of support for the PSOE, it concentrated 44% of the votes in 2018. It governs practically all the municipalities of the province and presides over the Provincial Council. The Andalusian elections are just around the corner, probably in June, and those of Juan Espadas are pulling the muscle of their mayors – who govern 65% of the municipalities of Andalusia – to stress their electorate and recover the 600,000 votes that they lost in 2018, when they lost the regional government after 37 years in power. The socialist aldermen are mobilizing in all the provinces, leading the protests against the Board for the deterioration of public health, for example.
The Andalusian elections are just around the corner, yes, but next year the municipal elections will also be held, and the mayors themselves are at stake there. The pardon for illegal irrigation in the northern crown of Doñana affects five towns -Moguer, Lucena, Almonte, Rociana del Condado and Bonares- with more than 100,000 inhabitants, but which shakes up the business of farmers in an entire region with a of the highest per capita income in Spain. Many families, many votes.
The abstention of the Andalusian PSOE connects with the speech of the president of the Board, Juan Manuel Moreno, when he says that a National Park cannot be a brake on the economic growth of its surroundings, because “it causes social rejection in the people who live nearby”. Swords expresses it this way: “Doñana cannot be protected against those who live in the area.” Both have tried to distance themselves from the controversy: the Andalusian president, alleging that it was an initiative of his party, not his government, and cooling expectations by warning that it will not be in force before the elections; and the leader of the opposition, justifying his abstention on the need to “listen and dialogue with the farmers.”
The paradox is that the controversial legislative proposal has caused more wear and tear on Espadas than on Moreno, and that while the Andalusian president traveled to Dubai on Thursday on an official visit, the socialist leader had to urgently go to Parliament to give explanations about the initiative of the rights. “I’m not doing this for a handful of votes,” the socialist leader tried to explain himself, when asked if the abstention promoted by the PSOE in Huelva was going to be understood by the socialists in Córdoba, Granada, Jaén, Aragón, Asturias or Valencia. “An inexplicable, unheard-of vote,” his people had told him, from the Government, from Ferraz. “Voting no does not solve the real problem of farmers in the area of Doñana. I do not receive slogans and guidelines from anyone,” says Espadas.
The socialist agrees with President Moreno that “irrigation in the northern crown of Doñana only passes through the pending infrastructures – the transfer of the Tinto, Odiel and Piedras rivers; the San Silvestre tunnel (recently tendered) and the Alcolea dam (no technical reports yet) – to guarantee surface water resources”. Swords wanted to settle the debate by announcing his presence at a demonstration called by the Fundación Huelva de Empresarios (FOE) that will take place on March 4, to claim these pending infrastructures in Huelva. These protests, to which the general secretary of the Andalusian PSOE will join, are essentially directed at the Government of Pedro Sánchez and his own party.