Esta página no está disponible en español.
Basques Approve Secession Measure
Abstention By Basque Radicals Secures First-Round Victory For Home Rule Plan
Scheme for sovereignty will now go to a crucial vote in the regional parliament
21 December 2004
El Pais - English Edition
A plan to grant the Basque Country near sovereign status overcame its first hurdle Monday, winning the approval of a Basque parliamentary commission prior to a vote in a session of the regional chamber before the year's end.
The future of the project, which aims to create a Basque state "freely associated" with Spain, nonetheless remains unclear due to vehement opposition from the Spanish Socialist party and the Popular Party (PP), and the as yet undecided stance of the Sozialista Abertzaleak (SA), a party born from the ETA terrorist group's outlawed political wing Batasuna.
SA's decision to abstain in the commission yesterday - thereby enabling the plan to be passed - appeared not so much to express the radical group's approval for the project as its fierce opposition to the current status of the northern region, established under the 1979 autonomy statute.
"This is a more than an official funeral for the statute... which we have fought to achieve for 25 years," SA spokesman Arnaldo Otegi declared after the vote. SA, however, has refused to accept the project in full, and without its support the plan is destined to be defeated by the combined opposition of the Socialists and the PP in the Basque Parliament when it is put to a vote on December 30.
Drafted by Basque nationalist premier Juan José Ibarretxe, the project must receive regional parliamentary backing prior to being put to a referendum in the Basque Country - a poll that is planned to take place ahead of regional elections next spring.
Modeled on the status of territories such as Quebec and Puerto Rico, the "Ibarretxe plan" aims to grant the Basque Country near total internal control and a degree of representation abroad - goals that both Spain's governing Socialists and the PP consider unconstitutional. "The Ibarretxe plan both excludes and divides," Socialist party secretary José Blanco declared yesterday. "You cannot build the future of the Basque Country by marginalizing half the Basque population and Spain."
Whatever the outcome of the vote on December 30 and a possible referendum, any reform of the autonomy statute must be put to a vote in the Spanish Parliament.
Radical Party Votes Help Basque Premier Keep Sovereignty Plan Alive
SA, heir to outlawed Batasuna, gave partial support to Ibarretxe's project in regional chamber
A. GUENAGA / P. GOROSPE
31 December 2004
El Pais - English Edition
Basque nationalist premier Juan José Ibarretxe's sovereignty plan gained unexpected and vital support Thursday in a vote in the Basque Parliament, obtaining the partial acceptance of a radical party and putting it on track for a referendum in the region early next year.
The so-called Ibarretxe Plan, which seeks to create a Basque state "freely associated" with Spain, gained limited backing from Sozialista Abertzaleak (SA) in an 11th hour decision that allowed the project to be passed with 39 votes to 35. Though long critical of the initiative, three of SA's six representatives voted in favor of the plan, with Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of the group that succeeded ETA's outlawed political wing Batasuna, declaring that the change in stance reflected his party's desire for the "voice of the Basque people" to be heard.
The decision followed several hours of heated parliamentary debate in which Ibarretxe implored SA to support his initiative and cease siding with Spain's governing Socialist party and the main opposition Popular Party (PP) in their attempts to derail it.
The Basque premier said that while the PP - which broke off all contact with his administration in the last legislature - "does not recognize the existence of the Basque nation" and the Socialists "do not recognize the right of the Basque people to determine their future," it would be "incomprehensible" for SA to prevent a referendum. SA had previously objected to the initiative because it does not encompass what it considers to be the Basque homeland, comprising not only the Basque Country but also the region of Navarre and three provinces in southwestern France.
Ibarretxe said that no matter what obstacles are thrown in the way of the sovereignty initiative, "the Basque people will decide their future."
"There is no going back - a new political era has begun," he declared.
Framed in a reform of the region's 1979 autonomy statute, the Ibarretxe plan is modeled on the status of territories such as Quebec or Puerto Rico and seeks to obtain a system of co-sovereignty for the Basque Country. In effect it would result in almost total internal control being handed over to the administration in Vitoria, the definition of Basques as a nation, and a degree of representation abroad independent of Madrid. One of the main motives behind it is to induce an end to separatist violence by Basque terror group ETA.
According to both the Socialist party and the PP the plan is unconstitutional, and regardless of the result of Ibarretxe's planned referendum the project will face its real test in Congress in Madrid. With the PP and Socialists dominating the lower house, it will be impossible for the initiative to be approved in anything resembling its present form, although merely making it that far would be considered a symbolic victory for the Basque nationalist leader.
Socialists Insist Ibarretxe Plan Must Be Allowed To Reach Congress, Despite Misgivings
Prime minister says there is "no space" for initiative within the Constitution
3 January 2005
El Pais - English Edition
"The aim is for the Basque people to defeat the plan themselves at the ballot box and therefore we must follow the political and not the judicial path first," Public Administrations Minister Jordi Sevilla said Saturday.
Taking the project before the Constitutional Court, as demanded by the PP, has not been ruled out, however, but it is a measure the government plans to use in the last instance if political pressure, including the plan's expected rejection by Congress, fails to force Ibarretxe to withdraw it.
Negotiations, including the Basque premier's demand that he be permitted to debate it face to face and "government-to-government" with Madrid, have also been ruled out, at least while Ibarretxe maintains the project in anything like its current form.
"The democratic process must be allowed to run its course first and it must be reviewed by Congress. It therefore makes no sense for Ibarretxe to propose government-to-government negotiations," Sevilla noted.
A Socialist representative said yesterday that Zapatero's meeting with Ibarretxe is "necessary to maintain institutional dialogue" and because "whether we like it or not Ibarretxe remains the democratically elected leader of the Basque region."
At the heart of the talks will be the prime minister's reiteration that the plan violates the 1978 Constitution and the Basque Country's 1979 autonomy statute.
Framed in the guise of a reform of the statute, the Ibarretxe plan is modeled on the status of territories such as Quebec or Puerto Rico and seeks to obtain a system of co-sovereignty for the Basque Country. In effect it would result in almost total internal control in the region being handed over to the administration in Vitoria, the definition of Basques as a nation, and a degree of representation abroad, independently of Madrid.
"There is no space for this plan within the Spanish Constitution," Zapatero said in an interview on Saturday. "It is a thing of the past and should have been withdrawn long ago."
The prime minister noted that the fact that the initiative was approved with the support of Batasuna "does not make it any better, it makes it worse."
Regardless of the Spanish government's opposition and the certainty that the bill will be rejected in Congress, Ibarretxe has stressed that "nothing and no one" will prevent him from holding a referendum on the plan in the region later this year, probably after the Congress vote but before the Basque elections.
How Basques will choose to vote if a public consultation is allowed to go ahead is yet another uncertainty facing the plan.