Spain is worried about German threats to boycott “drought strawberries”

International repercussions of domestic conflict over illegal wells used by farmers .A clash over water use in Spain’s parched agricultural sector risks tarnishing one of the country’s most recognisable exports in European supermarkets: strawberries.

Teresa Ribera said that some farmers face “real reputational risks” in the wake of a German campaign to boycott what they called “drought strawberry”.

The dispute stems from a proposed law by the conservative Andalusia government, which critics claim would legalise up to 1,000 illegal wells that farmers use and could threaten to drain Donana, one of Europe’s largest wetlands.

Water Scarcity has become a critical issue in Europe where temperatures are increasing faster than anywhere else on the continent, and tensions between water consumers are growing.

The clash is fueling tensions between the Socialist Party and the conservative People’s Party. The Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a snap general election last week, the day after he suffered a crushing defeat in regional polls by the PP.

Ribera said that the Andalusian Plan was “generating panic”. She accused regional president Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla, of “calculated uncertainty” for saying that farmers could use as much water as they wanted without admitting it would deplete Donana’s groundwater.

Campact, an activist left-wing German group, has been prompted by the proposal to ask big supermarket chains like Lidl and Aldi not to buy produce from Donana in Andalusia’s Huelva region, which is known for its berry production.

A group claiming Spainis putting its consumers in danger to grow strawberries cheaply for Germany has received around 160,000 signatures on an online petition. The UK, France, and Italy are the top three export markets for Spanish strawberries after Germany. Last year, Germany imported EUR196mn worth of Spanish strawberries.

Ribera expressed her deep concern over the boycott call. She said that “Strawberry farmers in Spain who are compliant with the law and who have water rights do not deserve to be put at risk of their reputation by Moreno Bonilla”. According to the government, Huelva is included in a 35 percent of Spain that has been experiencing a “prolonged dry spell”.

Virginijus Sinkevicius visited Donana, Spain, in April, to express support for the central government’s opposition to the Andalusian Law. The European People’s Party (of which the Spanish PP belongs) immediately criticized his trip as being political, accusing him of promoting the Socialists. Sinkevicius is a Lithuanian Green political figure who has denied these claims.

Nine German parliamentary members from different parties will be visiting Spain on an “information gathering” mission this week to learn more about Donana. They are also scheduled to meet with regional and central governments in Andalusia.

Aldi Nord is a division of Aldi that includes Spain, northern Germany and Portugal. Since mid-2022, it has required that all its Andalusian suppliers be certified according to accepted standards for sustainable irrigation and groundwater use.

The PP claims that its legislative plan is intended to address the legitimate concerns of farmers. It will reverse a 2014 law – passed by the Socialists when they ruled Andalusia – which ended the classification of a swath territory as agricultural land, and removed its rights over water. Vox, a hard-right party, has backed the conservatives who have increased their vote share in the region around Donana during the recent regional elections.

All wells drilled in the region since 2014 are illegal. Ribera stated that the central government has closed 700 of these wells. The authorities are unable to identify them all or their owners because they’re often hidden beneath vegetation and only accessible in the early morning. The Socialist Party has also come under fire for failing to do more to protect Donana during the time it ruled Andalusia.

The European Commission said that the Andalusian proposal is in violation of a 2021 ruling by the European Court of Justice which ordered Spain to act.

The PP claims that its bill will “in no manner harm the Donana aquifer”, but instead would allow the collection of surface waters. The central government rejected that argument. The PP announced on Friday that it would allow a prominent scientist who had been critical of the plan to give testimony to the Andalusian Parliament, reversing its previous exclusion.