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Brussels warns Spain it will do ‘everything possible’ to protect threatened wetlands

The European Commission sent a letter to Spain on Thursday, warning that the Andalusian government’s plans to legalize more farmland in the Donana National Park could “violate” European legislation.

The Commission also vowed to employ “all the measures possible” to safeguard the sole UNESCO world heritage site on the Iberian peninsula.

In 2021, the European Court of Justice declared that Spain was failing to comply with EU law and protect the wetlands from being drained by hundreds of illegal nearby wells.

A year later, the EU formally called on Spain to comply with the ruling.

But recently, the conservative government in Andalusia has gone the other direction — advancing a plan to legalize more farmland around the drought-stricken wetlands.

On Thursday, Spain’s Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez traveled to Donana to speak to scientists and raise awareness about the serious threat posed to the park.

“There is no way for a government with a four-year mandate to legitimize bringing an ecosystem that’s been around for centuries to a point of no return,” he said in a speech.

“It’s not acceptable for the Popular Party and Vox to bulldoze laws that will result in a fine that all Spaniards will have to pay.”

Donana is a key stopover for birds migrating between northern Europe and Africa. It also provides habitat for endangered species including the Iberian lynx.

However, human activity such as farming, combined with an ongoing drought, is depleting the park’s water, turning lagoons into dust.

The government in Andalusia argues the plan will not contribute to more water loss. Yet, environmental groups, Spain’s central government, and now the European Commission are beginning to disagree.

“There is very strong scientific and technical evidence of the adverse effects of groundwater exploitation on the Donana ecosystems,” said EU Commission spokesperson Adalbert Jahnz. “I can’t prejudge what these next steps will be. What I can underline is that we are in the normal process of making sure the judgment of the European Court of Justice is complied with.”

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