Protesters march across Europe to condemn EU support for Spanish water plan

Environmental groups have completed a march from Spain to Brussels in an attempt to withdraw European Union funding from Spain’s controversial 20 billion euro (£12.4 billion) plan to divert water from the verdant north to the parched south.

Many members of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the largest federation of European environmental NGOs, arrived in Brussels on 9 September to protest at Spain’s adoption of one of the largest water development schemes ever in Europe, some two months before, which includes the construction of a gigantic transfer of water from northern to southern Spain, and more than 100 dams to deliver cheap water for agriculture and tourism (see related story). The EEB says that the plan, which has sparked massive protests across Spain, including half a million demonstrators in Madrid alone, will cause dramatic environmental damage and promote increased and unsustainable water consumption, as well as violating European environmental legislation and ridiculing new EU water policy.

The group made Brussels its target destination as the EU is to decide whether to grant one-third of the funding of the 20 billion euro scheme, and has been marching since 8 August from Spain’s Ebro Delta, the proposed site of water diversions, passing through France, Germany and Holland to Belgium. “It is important that Environment Commissioner Wallström has told the Spanish government that there is a clear link between appropriate implementation of EC law and policy and EC financing,” said John Hontelez, EEB Secretary General. “But it is also necessary that the Commission actually checks the Spanish water plan’s general conformity with EC laws before being trapped in the usual ‘salami tactic’; that good parts will be presented for EC funding and the bad parts will be home-financed.”

The EEB says that although the Commission has promised to carefully check the feasibility of the Spanish water plan, so far it has been unable to make any of its findings available. The Spanish government has already started to apply for specific funding, but no detailed information has been made available either.

“We think the way that this political ‘hot dossier’ is being handled is unacceptable”, commented Susana Lopez of Ecologistas en Acción, a member of the EEB and Spain’s largest environmental NGO. “The high level of secrecy about this case and the way that negotiations between the Commission and Spanish authorities are taking place, behind closed doors, does not give us the feeling that a fair game is being played, which will take social and environmental concerns into account.” Ecologistas en Acción has already lodged two complaints with the Commission that have been accepted by its Legal Services, alleging the infringement of the Habitats, Birds and Water Framework Directives.

“The Spanish government is disregarding the EU’s new water policy, which requires careful and profound environmental and economical tests to be made, as well as the search for better alternatives, before such a plan can be carried out”, said Stefan Scheuer, Water Policy Coordinator of the EEB, “If the EU accepts this, we have to seriously question the usefulness of the EU’s new water policy.”

Reports of concerns being raised about the Plan from both the European Commission and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands was refuted by the Spanish environment ministry. “The European Commission’s letter was neither positive nor negative,” a ministry spokesperson told edie. “It just told us to take account of various directives, which the Plan does comply with. As for criticism from Ramsar, we have been working with them for the last eight months on the Plan and all of their concerns have also been addressed,” he said.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie