MADRID (Reuters) - A delegation of German lawmakers on Monday scrapped a trip to assess the sustainability of strawberry production near Spain's endangered Donana wetlands as a war of words between Spain's ruling socialists and the opposition over water scarcity escalated ahead of a snap election next month.
The cross-party German parliamentary environment committee arrived in Madrid to meet environment ministry officials on Monday. They were then due to travel south to Andalusia to meet farming groups, environmental activists and local officials.
But by mid-morning on Monday, it announced the visit would be cancelled "in view of the high political significance that the topics of the trip have gained in recent days in the upcoming Spanish national elections".
A long drought in Spain has put water management in the spotlight, particularly around the Donana National Park, a vast wetland which supports diverse ecosystems and wildlife but where water over-exploitation is exacerbating the drought's effects.
The surrounding province of Huelva produces 98% of Spain's red fruits and 30% of the EU's, as well as being the world's largest strawberry exporter.
The Andalusia regional government, run by Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party, wants to legalise irrigation around Donana despite warnings from scientists that the park is in critical condition, with lagoons drying up.
It says the move would allow farmers to irrigate using surface water without jeopardising the underground reserves.
Spain's socialist-led central government says no more water, either surface or underground, is available for farming, while scientists say reducing water use in the area would help replenish the wetland.
Last week, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a snap election for July 23 after being trumped by the opposition in regional polls.
Sanchez made clear he would put his government's environmental credentials centre stage in the campaign as Spain faces a summer of record high temperatures, wildfires and water shortages.
This weekend he said his government would "save" Donana from climate deniers.
PP spokesman Borja Semper fired back in a press conference on Monday that Sanchez was seeking to destroy Huelva's strawberry-growing industry.
"The Germans have proven to be more prudent than the prime minister," Semper said.
Meanwhile, a German consumer campaign group, Campact, launched a petition on May 26 for German supermarkets to boycott berries grown near Donana.
Spanish strawberry growers said the campaign was "insidious and damaging to the strawberry and red fruit industry".
German-owned Aldi supermarket in Spain said in a statement it buys most of the strawberries which it sells in Spain from certified suppliers in Huelva, and that it has a strong commitment to their Spanish suppliers.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid and Rachel More in Berlin, additional reporting by Corina Pons, Pietro Lombardi and David Latona, editing by Aislinn Laing and Angus MacSwan)