Thousands of people marched through Palma yesterday evening in protest over the government's controversial water plan and even the European Union is seeking more information from Spain about a controversial £15 billion national water plan for which Madrid is seeking EU financial help. As the two-day informal meeting of EU Environment Ministers drew to close, ministers gave strong support to a proposal for common policies to protect the block's soil from threats such as contamination and desertification, Spain said. Current EU president Spain, one of the Mediterranean countries which faces a threat from desertification, is pushing for soil to be protected by a comprehensive EU strategy, as air and water already are. We have succeeded in putting soil policy on the EU's environmental agenda. This initiative won strong support from the member countries of the EU, Spanish Environment Minister Jaume Matas said. Ministers discussed a paper from the European Commission which said more than 16 percent of the EU's land area is affected by some kind of soil degradation. In the 13 candidate countries for EU membership, mostly in central and eastern Europe, the figure rises to 35 percent. Apart from being essential for food production, soil stores and filters water and provides a habitat for many species. The threats to the soil, exacerbated by industry, mining and farming, include erosion, loss of organic material, contamination, loss of biodiversity and salination. Other threats are soil sealing covering soil with houses and roads - which reduces its ability to absorb rainwater - and the compacting of soil through the use of heavy machinery or overgrazing. The centrepiece of the plan -- an ambitious project to transfer water from the country's greener northern regions to the drought-hit south -- has come under fire from environmentalists and drawn huge protests. Spain is looking to the EU to provide about one third of the funding for the plan from European structural funds. We have now studied very carefully all the documents we've received from Spain. We've also recently, just a few days ago, sent another letter (to Spain) with some complementary questions to be answered, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in Palma juts hours before the huge protest got underway.
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