January 19, 2005


Basques push for autonomy: Spain's Congress will review the region's bid for independence Feb. 1. (Lisa Abend and Geoff Pingree, 1/20/05, CS Monitor)

When Juan José Ibarretxe, president of the Basque territories, approached the steps of Madrid's presidential palace last Thursday, Spanish media were watching closely. Would Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero greet him by descending one step, or two? Would he extend his hand first? Would he smile? And how would Ibarretxe respond?

The leaders' encounter was scrutinized more than most acts of political choreography. After all, the meeting - hastily called after the Basque Parliament finally approved a plan to allow its territories in the north to decide whether to remain part of Spain - will set the tone for congressional debates about the fate of the Spanish nation.

Ibarretxe, who wrote the plan, has called it an "opportunity" to forge better ties in what has been a difficult relationship between Basques and Spaniards. Yet many here say the plan threatens to destroy the country's constitution and would rupture boundaries that have stood since Ferdinand married Isabella in the 15th century. Both sides say the debate will test the quasi-federalist form of government Spain established in 1978.

The Basque people, who are racially and linguistically distinct from Spaniards and other Europeans, have considered themselves a separate nation since the 19th century. Their drive for political autonomy began in the 1960s, when dictator Francisco Franco repressed their culture and language.

The Basque relationship with Spain is sometimes inexactly likened to that of northern Ireland and Great Britain, especially because ETA, the Basque terrorist group that for decades has supported the creation of a separate homeland using violence, employs rhetoric and tactics characteristic of the Irish Republican Army.

But many moderate Basques support sovereignty as well, and though the region already enjoys a high level of autonomy, the dominant Basque National Party (PNV) supports the Basques' desire for full sovereignty.

The Ibarretxe Plan culminates these aspirations, calling for a local referendum on whether to create an independent Basque state. In short, says Javier Corcuera Atienza, Constitutional Law professor at the University of the Basque Country, "They are trying to obtain a situation in which the Basque Country could act like a state, and have its own voice in Europe." Called Euskal Herria, that country would, according to PNV leaders, seek recognition by the European Union.

Thus proving the truth of the rule: [I]t's simply reality that in the modern world any people which sees itself as a nationality is going to end up with its own state. And, we note again, the political future lies in smaller states, not larger, which is one of the reasons why the EU project is so absurd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2005 11:40 PM

Here's a thought I've heard--I don't know that I necessarily agree with it, but it's a thought: the EU is what makes such things possible, by providing an economic framework within which the Basques (or the Scots, or whoever else) can survive as an independent nation. Without the EU, they aren't strong enough to do so, but within the EU, they can manage it. Your thoughts?

Posted by: Timothy at January 20, 2005 1:09 AM


Yes, the economic framework is useful, the political will destroy it though.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 7:19 AM

OJ: which is why George Washington et al. were right

Posted by: Palmcroft at January 20, 2005 8:31 AM

Had they kept the King they would have been.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 9:03 AM

"L'etat, c'est moi"

ain't far from

"Everything for the state, nothing outside the state, and nothing but the state".

Washington and his fellow travelers made the politically conservative choice, which, in this case, conflicted with the culturally conservative choice. Icons must give way to practicality, Jim Crow is gone along with kings and the Latin Mass.

Posted by: Palmcroft at January 20, 2005 9:47 AM

The EU not only makes it possible, it make it desirable, because in so many things each state has an equal voice. Scotland will soon follow.

Fiscal crises in these new states, which have relied on government largesse and will lack conservative parties urging fiscal restraint, will create even greater strains on the EU.

Posted by: K. Bowman at January 20, 2005 10:50 AM

Without the EU, none of these local drives for autonomy would succeed as many of these proposed states would not be big enough economic zones on their own.

At the same time, I wonder if this will cool support for the EU by national elites. Does Spain really want to give up Basque and Catalonia? Will France agree to a separate Breton and Corsica? Will Italy split into a north and south? Will Germany split up again? Will the United Kingdom cease to exist? Will Belgium split into separate Flemish and Waloon lands?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at January 20, 2005 11:08 AM


It's quite far.

Posted by: oj at January 20, 2005 3:55 PM

Small states don't need EUs they need free trade policies. Let Basquville join NAFTA. Screw Zapatero.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 20, 2005 11:13 PM