The Popular Party's policy plan for dealing with ETA: "Nothing"
Rajoy planning to follow the letter of the law should he win the general election
Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy can sum up in one sentence the key to the policies he will put into place in the Basque Country if he wins the elections: "If ETA disappears, nothing."
The general election of November 20 is taking place in the wake of ETA's announcement in October that it was bringing to an end its 43-year violent campaign for Basque independence, which cost the lives of 829 people in Spain and France. But throughout the two governments of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Rajoy, as leader of the opposition, has been highly critical of the government's approach to ETA, in particular its failed negotiations with the terrorist group.
According to PP leaders in the Basque Country, Rajoy is working on the basis that "in the political sphere, no concessions can be made [to ETA], and in terms of [the group's prisoners], he is not willing to offer them anything nor raise their expectations; the plan is just to follow the letter of the law. He's not going any further than that nor is he going to be any more specific."
The statements made by ETA in an article that was published in Basque newspaper Gara last week, in which it called for an amnesty for its convicts and the right to decide on independence, has not shifted his position.
According to the PP, it is ETA and the Basque radical left - known as the abertzale - that must continue to "demonstrate things," and not the state.
Given that the PP is ruling out dealing with the controversial issue of ETA prisoners - many of whom are being held in jails all over the country, far from the homes of their friends and family - a new PP government would theoretically not be willing to make any concessions for ETA until it had formally disbanded. Would that include the decommissioning of arms? "Handing over their weapons is a physical question," says one of Rajoy's team in the Basque Country. "But in a few months to a year the authorities will know whether there has been an about-turn, a split, or not."
According to some PP figures in the Basque Country, if ETA were to disappear, and therefore was no longer controlling its prisoners, "it's reasonable to suggest that a policy on prisoners would no longer make any sense." In that case, the same sources continue, "with the band dissolved, we wouldn't care if they were completing their sentence in Salto del Negro [in the south of Spain] or Basauri [in the Basque Country]."
The PP has already made clear in its election manifesto that it will not negotiate with ETA. What's more, it is refusing to even sit down with certain parties, as the pro-independence leftists would like, while ETA still exists.
The effect that this will have for the ongoing process will only become clear after the elections - should the PP win.