Basque ruling party wants to include “right to decide” in new regional charter

The debate to review the 1979 Statute begins today amid disagreement over independence issues

Pedro Gorospe
Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu (center, wearing burgundy tie).
Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu (center, wearing burgundy tie).ADRIAN RUIZ DE HIERRO (EFE)

Basque political parties are meeting on Wednesday to embark on the “challenge” of overcoming their differences and reforming the Statute that regulates the region’s political organization and relationship with Madrid.

The governing Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) believes that the “right to decide” should be included in the revised charter, although it is ruling out any unilateral action outside the law.

The PNV is being careful to stress that no unilateral or illegal action will be pursued

The Basque parliament will start debating the subject on Wednesday, against the backdrop of a territorial crisis in Spain caused by the Catalan secession bid.

Regional government spokesman Josu Erkoreka said that another challenge once a draft charter is ready will be attracting greater citizen participation than on October 25, 1979, when the current Statute was put to a referendum. The turnout rate was 58.85% of the census, and 90.27% of voters said yes to the charter.

In a bid to dispel fears about a Catalonia-like secession bid, the ruling PNV – which has a governing deal with the Basque Socialists (PSE-EE) – is being careful to stress that no unilateral or illegal action will be pursued.

Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu inside the regional parliament.
Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu inside the regional parliament.L. Rico

Basque Premier Iñigo Urkullu has stated more than once that any changes to the charter of self-rule will remain “within the bounds of the law and the Spanish Constitution.”

But the PNV also argues that “the Spanish state must assume the obligation to negotiate and agree on constitutional and legal adjustments,” in order to reflect the desire of Basque citizens.

There are three Basque parties that defend the right to decide: the PNV, Podemos and EH Bildu (a far-left coalition that includes ex-members of Batasuna, considered the political wing of the terrorist organization ETA).

These parties hold 57 out of the 75 seats in the Basque parliament, representing 76% of the chamber. The Socialists have nine deputies, and the conservative Popular Party (PP) again as many.

EH Bildu wants this “right to decide” to include the possibility of achieving outright independence

Yet Basque nationalists are not united in the way that Catalan nationalists seem to be.

Elkarrekin Podemos, the regional branch of the protest party headed by Pablo Iglesias, supports the right to decide but is not openly separatist. Its leaders have warned that they will not side with the PNV and EH Bildu if these two create a secessionist bloc.

But the PNV does not want to ally itself with EH Bildu either, despite recent efforts by the latter to tone down its pro-independence rhetoric in order to facilitate such a move.

On Saturday, EH Bildu Secretary General Arnaldo Otegi – a former Batasuna leader who has been in and out of prison for decades on various terrorism-related convictions – said that “any scenario that is not independence will only be provisional.”

Premier Urkullu says that in a globalized world, “independence in impossible.” But he and his party have also urged Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to open up a political negotiation over Spain’s territorial model if he wants to “avoid an even greater social fracture.”

For the ruling party, the right to decide would take the form of a negotiated referendum in which Basque citizens would show their support for a new relationship with the Spanish state. The PNV says that this would not entail a break with Spain, whereas EH Bildu wants this “right to decide” to include the possibility of achieving outright independence.

English version by Susana Urra.

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