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Along with colleagues from the European Free Alliance (EFA) in the European Parliament, I visited Valencia, Spain for an EFA Parliamentary Group meeting earlier this month.
Organised by Jordi Sebastia of the Compromis party (Commitment), SNP colleague Alyn Smith MEP and I joined EFA colleagues Ernest Maragall MEP, Josep-Maria Terricabras MEP and Tatjana Zdanoka MEP to gain first-hand account of the political atmosphere in Valencia along with a number of the environmental and energy-related issues that the Valencian region are currently facing.
In visiting the Les Corts Valencianes - the Valencian Parliament - where we met with the President, Mr. Enric Morera Ribó the stark differences between political voices materialised during a morning plenary debate. Lengthy speaking time, applause and a great degree of gender equality were visible inside the chamber along with cross-party representation of views on diverse topics. Nonetheless, the challenges between this regional Parliament and Madrid are palpable - which are most prominent with regards to energy and environmental issues.
On the subject of the Mediterranean Transport Corridor, we met with local campaigners, representatives from the local business community and civil society organisations who emphasized this that railway development has huge potential for the region's economy and other regions throughout Spain. Advocates for the MTC are frustrated with obstacles to its progress, despite the Corridor being one of the top transport priorities for the European Union. As an economic and trade lifeline, the Valencian region is seeking market access to southern France which may also pave the way for future potential to facilitate trade exchanges with North Africa.
Local entrepreneurs, representatives and experts from the energy sector also met with us in the Centre de Cultura Contemporània to give a presentation of their commitment to energy sustainability. Along with innovative new ideas to boost sustainable sources of energy power in the Valencian region, the delegation was informed of the lack of investment from Madrid in renewables and an over-dependence on gas and CO2 emitting energy sources.
Our final meeting was to Albufera National Park, which included a fantastic boat trip to discuss the protection of biodiversity and land uses in the National Park. In Albufera, we heard that there is a specialist way of water management here. Beyond the issue of surplus water in the Park, the key problem is the aftermath of harvesting in the rice fields. After the harvesting season in the autumn, stalks (and residue) remain in the rice fields which should be removed prior to flooding of the fields. The simplest way to deal with the stalks is to burn them but this produces a high intensity release of CO2 emissions and it also heavily impacts the wildlife, vegetation and health of the local people. The alternatives to the burning of the stalks are hindered by the swamp-like conditions of where the stalks remain, which form mud land therefore making it exceptionally difficult for machinery to remove them. As 50% of the water from the river in the Albufera Park is used in the Valencian region, the impact of this issue is felt further than the local population and environment surrounding the Park - underlining the need for a collective political effort to address this ongoing problem.
The visit to Valencia was highly insightful to understand the similar challenges that we in Scotland face when it comes to protecting our environment, biodiversity and local communities. Moreover our long-standing commitment in Scotland to renewable energy sources resembles much of the Valencian approach to energy sustainability.