regional politics

PNV announces new strategy to establish independent Basque nation

Regional leader Iñigo Urkulla calls for “dialogue, agreement and ratification” with Spain

The lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu in Bilbao on Sunday.
The lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu in Bilbao on Sunday.ALFREDO ALDAI (EFE)

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) wants its own state within the European framework, together with Navarre and the French Basque provinces. But, at the same time, it has decided that neither the federal option being proposed by the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE), nor the independence drive being undertaken by the Catalan nationalists are the routes that it wants to pursue. The PNV, which was founded more than 100 years ago and which on Sunday celebrated Aberri Eguna, or Basque Homeland Day, will not be making any unilateral declarations of independence, as it has been called upon to do by the terrorist group ETA or the radical abertzale left – at least not for the moment.

Instead, the PNV is opting to move toward sovereignty step by step, in a process that it is describing as “dialogue, negotiation, agreement and ratification” regarding a new relationship status with Spain, which could be understood as a “confederate model” based on the respect of historical rights. A new status that would require, were it to be introduced, reforms to the Spanish Constitution.

The last decade was a traumatic one for the PNV government, which was led by Juan José Ibarretxe. The former regional leader in the Basque country came up with a sovereignty plan, one that was definitively rejected by the national Congress. That failure led to the first Socialist-led regional government in the Basque Country in 30 years. In the wake of that experience, Basque nationalists have no doubts that it is a good idea to wait and to see what happens, but at the same time constantly work toward a new “bilateral” relationship with the state.

The PNV believes that it is better to seek political agreement in the regional government with an aim of widening the powers granted by its statute, and, at the same time, attempting to seal an alliance with Spain in order to ensure the direct presence of its politicians within the decision-making processes of the European Union. But this direct participation would be an intermediate position, given that its eventual aim is to see the Basque Country become a nation in Europe, together with some that already have made that transition, “such as Estonia and Croatia,” or others that are seeking to do so, such as Scotland and Catalonia. The legal formula that the PNV sees as being the most viable would be an update to the Lisbon Treaty.

“This is the Basque alternative,” the Basque regional leader, or lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu, explained to hundreds or party members in the Plaza Nueva in Bilbao on Sunday. While he stopped short of announcing it to the party’s followers, the PNV has argued in internal documents that the European Union should recognize national realities, such as the Basque Country and Catalonia, and that it should introduce legal mechanisms for the internal expansion of the union.

The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the leader of the opposition Socialists, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, must accept that “Spain is no longer one country,” Urkullu continued; that the “days of ‘one, great and free’ are behind us, and that it is the time to accept that Euskadi is the homeland of the Basques, to begin to dialogue, reach agreement and ratify.”

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