EU warns Spain over plans to expand irrigation near Doñana


A proposal to expand agricultural irrigation around Spain's Doñana National Park has sparked controversy.

The conservative regional government in Andalusia are fast-tracking plans that would rezone farmland near the wetlands despite the park's critical environmental condition. The government says that this will compensate hundreds of small farmers.

Greater Flamingos in Doñana in November 2022 (Alan Jack).

However, Spain's environment minister has accused the regional government of engaging in "short-term electoral demagoguery" and playing into the hands of the far right by pressing ahead with the irrigation plans for strawberry farms.

Doñana is one of the most important wetlands in Europe. In 2021, the European Court of Justice condemned Spain for failing to protect the natural reserve and the European Commission argues that if the new law is approved, it would be a violation of the court ruling.

"If necessary the (European) Commission will have the possibility to take further measures to ensure that Spain complies with the [European] Court of Justice ruling," said Tim McPhie, a spokesperson for the EU executive.

"But at the moment we are assessing the observations that are being submitted and following closely the developments"

Last March, the European Commission sent a letter threatening to lodge an appeal that could allow economic sanctions to be imposed against Spain. For many MEPs, the plan could irreversibly damage the reserve.

"We are asking for the implementation of all the measures to which the Commission has already committed itself and, if necessary, requesting the application of precautionary measures to halt this ecocide," said Sira Rego, a Spanish MEP from The Left group in parliament.

The drought in the area is critical. The Doñana wetlands are severely deteriorated with the latest data showing that around 60% of the largest lagoons have not been filled since at least 2013.