Basque: Regional Elections (updated)

Reply Thu 30 Dec, 2004 03:53 pm
Basque Parliament Votes for Virtual Independence

The Basque parliament tonight approved a proposal for virtual independence from Spain, with last-minute support from a formerly banned party seen as the political wing of the separatist group ETA.

The plan poses the stiffest challenge to the Spanish central government since the Basque region became semi-autonomous 25 years ago.

The region will now begin a six-month period of negotiations with the central government. If ETA violence ceases, the Basques plan to hold a regional referendum on the proposal, regardless of whether the Madrid government accepts it.

The Basque parliament approved the plan by 39 votes to 35, with three of the "yes" votes coming from Socialista Abertzaleak, considered the successor to the Batasuna party which was banned last year by the Supreme Court on the grounds it was part of ETA.

Unexpectedly, Socialista Abertzaleak said three of its six law-makers would back the proposals. Earlier the party had opposed the plan, saying it did not go far enough towards full independence.

The plan seeks to amend the 1978 charter that granted the Basque region broad autonomy as a "free state" associated with Spain.

Like other autonomous regions in Spain - notably Catalonia around Barcelona - the Basques have control over their revenues, police, schools, health care and other public services. The Basque language, once suppressed, is now co-official with Spanish in the region.

The blueprint plan, masterminded by regional President Juan Jose Ibarretxe, would give the wealthy northern region even more say in running its affairs, such as by establishing its own court system and representation in international bodies like the European Union.

Spain's two main parties - the governing Socialists and opposition Popular Party - have opposed the plan and said it would lead to secession, which is banned by the national constitution.

For decades the Basque region has suffered violence by the armed separatist group ETA, which has claimed more than 800 lives since the late 1960s in its campaign for an independent homeland in territory straddling northern Spain and south-western France.

"We are not at all willing to accept a situation of violence and political stalemate," Ibarretxe told the 75-seat Basque parliament at the start of the debate.

"The essence of democracy and the key to the solution is the right of the Basque people to decide their own future."

Ibarretxe's Basque Nationalist Party dominates the region's minority coalition government that controls 36 seats in the legislature.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 3 Jan, 2005 10:09 am
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said today that an autonomy plan passed by Basque lawmakers last week is doomed for failure and called the proposal secessionist, unconstitutional and an anomaly in a Europe moving to become more united. Last Thursday, the Basque regional legislature approved a plan seeking to amend the 1970 charter that granted the Basque region autonomy over its police force, schools, health care, tax revenue and other public services. The plan seeks to transform the region's status into a "free state" associated with Spain. The proposal must be approved by the Spanish Parliament before it would come into force. In a news conference Monday, President Zapatero rejected calls that the government file suit against the proposal in the Constitutional Court, saying a lawsuit would freeze the initiative and prevent Parliament from debating and rejecting the proposal.

Spain's PM Derides Basque Autonomy Plan


Associated Press

MADRID, Spain - Spain's prime minister condemned an initiative by Basque lawmakers to make their region virtually independent, deriding it Monday as secessionist, unconstitutional and anomalous in a Europe seeking to become more united.

In his first public remarks concerning Thursday's passage of the plan by the Basque regional parliament, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the initiative is doomed to failure when it reaches Parliament for debate, probably in a month or two.

"This proposal does not form part of the future of our country. This proposal is part of policies of the past," Zapatero told a news conference in Seville. "The policy of the future is the integration and union of the peoples of Spain and Europe."

Zapatero said he would meet soon with the mastermind of the plan, Basque President Juan Jose Ibarretxe, but only to hear him out - not to negotiate - and to tell him firmly that the government rejects his blueprint.

"The Basque president knows well that this plan will not succeed," Zapatero told a news conference.

He also rejected appeals by the conservative Popular Party that the Socialist government immediately file a Constitutional Court lawsuit against the proposal. That would freeze the initiative and prevent Parliament from even debating it.

Zapatero noted that the previous, conservative government had in fact filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court when the plan was first unveiled in 2003 - and lost. The court rejected the lawsuit on grounds that the plan at that point was just an idea, not a bill.

Instead, the government will consult with other parties opposed to the proposal, analyze it, weigh its legal options and gear up for parliamentary debate, after which the plan will be voted down, Zapatero said.

"The government must not make any wrong moves," he said.

The plan was approved Thursday thanks to unexpected help from lawmakers accused of being close to the armed Basque separatist group ETA, blamed for more than 800 deaths since the 1960s in its campaign for an independent homeland in territory straddling northern Spain and southwestern France. Those lawmakers had originally said the plan did not go far enough toward Basque independence.

It seeks to amend the 1979 charter that granted the Basque region broad autonomy and transform its status into that of a "free state" associated with Spain.

Like some other parts of Spain, the Basque region already has broad autonomy, with control over its police force, schools, health care and other public services. The Basque region is the only one to collect its own tax revenue.

But Ibarretxe's plan seeks to give the wealthy northern region even more say in its affairs, such as establishing its own court system and representation in international bodies like the European Union.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 18 Apr, 2005 12:15 am
Election kills off Basque leader's autonomy plan

By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
18 April 2005

Conservative Basque nationalists headed for a renewed electoral victory in the region last night, but they lost ground substantially while an obscure party backed by radical separatists made an unexpectedly strong showing.

With most votes counted, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) led by Juan Jose Ibarretxe won 29 seats in the 75-strong regional parliament, compared with 33 in 2001. The result will be bitterly disappointing to Mr Ibarretxe, who treated the poll as a referendum on his blueprint for greater autonomy from Madrid.

The Basque Socialist Party (PSE), which campaigned fiercely against the nationalist project, improved its showing substantially, winning 18 seats, six more than before. The PSE, led by Patxi Lopez, overtook the conservative Popular Party to become the region's second biggest party and a key player in the region's future.

The hitherto insignificant Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK), which burst on to the scene when the banned pro-Eta Batasuna party backed it during the campaign, won a decisive nine seats, to the chagrin and deep concern of most parties.

For the first time in decades, yesterday's elections were free from the menacing shadow of the armed separatist group, Eta. The organisation has made no fatal attack for nearly two years, perhaps awaiting - like every politician in the region - the election result before making their next move.

Basques conspicuously failed to rally to Mr Ibarretxe's call to push the limits of self-government to the point where the region would enjoy "free association" with Spain. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government dismissed the plan as unconstitutional, but has offered to negotiate a new statute of autonomy acceptable to a broad majority of Basques.

Mr Ibarretxe's blueprint, which proposes the introduction of Basque passports, a foreign policy role for the region and judicial autonomy, was narrowly approved by Basque MPs in December, but thrown out by the parliament in Madrid in February.

Mr Ibarretxe argued his was the only political route to ending decades of separatist conflict. But with turnout yesterday at 66 per cent, down 15 per cent on 2001, and a drop in support, Mr Ibarratxe cannot now claim his sovereignty plan represents the overwhelming will of Basques. Mr Zapatero and Basque socialists hope Mr Ibarretxe will ditch his plan and seek a wider alliance to draft a new statute of autonomy by consensus.

The election confirmed that the 50-50 split between Basque nationalists and non-nationalists remains unchanged. But the result has unleashed a new stage of haggling and deal-making that could transform the political landscape of the Basque country.
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Flemish Lion
Reply Mon 18 Apr, 2005 09:27 am
I think the Basques deserve their independence, although it is a pity since they share so much history with the other regions. But most of it isn't very good, since the Spanish state has been dominated by the Castilians from the beginning.
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Reply Mon 18 Apr, 2005 10:52 am
Just a couple of reminders:

The Socialist Party of Euzkadi is none other that the Basque branch of PSOE, the government party in Spain.

When 50% of the population openly rejects independence, and the other half is divided about the desired level of increased autonomy, in regards to Spain, and the means to achieve it, then it's obvious that there's no political room for such independence.

Ibarretxe lost. Period.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 19 Apr, 2005 12:53 am
The 5-Minute Briefing: Basque separatism
Poll forces nationalist leader to rethink plan for autonomy

19 April 2005

What have Sunday's regional elections produced in the Basque country?

The Basque Nationalist Party won, as usual, but with only 29 seats in the 75-seat parliament, it failed to eclipse parties that consider themselves Spanish rather than Basque. The nationalists' leader, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, can't rule alone, and has agonising choices over possible allies. He could favour the hitherto unknown Communist Party of the Basque Lands (Ehak), which won more than 12 per cent of the vote, nine seats. Ehak was supported by the banned pro-Eta Batasuna party, and is condemned by conservatives as an Eta front. A deal with Ehak would poison relations with Madrid.

Or he could accept the overtures of Basque Socialists, who overtook the conservative Popular Party to become the region's second force. Socialists want to seek autonomy through consensus.

So Basques don't want independence from Spain?

It doesn't look like it. About half of the Basques consider themselves nationalist and harbour an idealised vision of a Basque homeland. But most accept the generous autonomy the region already enjoys.

A sizeable proportion worries that nationalist demands unnecessarily provoke discord with Madrid. But a minority - represented by Ehak - consider themselves oppressed by Spain and want to secede. They argue that any means, including arms, are justified to achieve that aim.

Mr Ibarretxe's sovereignty plan - offering Basque passports, Basque foreign policy and independent Basque courts - was killed off by Sunday's poll. He presented the elections as a plebiscite, and didn't mobilise the support he'd expected. He must now rethink everything.

Where does Eta fit in?

The armed separatists haven't killed anyone for two years. They've been weakened by the arrest of top leaders, nationwide revulsion against terrorism following the March train bombings, and dissent among hundreds of Eta prisoners weary of the struggle.

Eta has hinted that it wants to talk to the Socialist government, but the Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, says that's impossible until the organisation condemns violence.

What will Zapatero do now?

Mr Zapatero got what he wanted: a drop in nationalist support and a boost for Basque Socialists. He promises to grant more autonomy if a broad majority of Basques want it, but he's in no hurry.
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