September 20, 2007


Autonomy games: Tensions with the regions ahead of next March's general election in Spain (The Economist, 9/20/07)

POLITICIANS can be more loved when they give up power than when they have it. This seems true of Josu Jon Imaz, leader of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). His decision to quit has provoked laments all round, including from the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Mr Imaz's party won only 1.6% of the vote in the 2004 general election. But, like the Basque country, the PNV punches above its weight. It has dominated Basque politics for 30 years, leading every regional government since 1980, including that of the current premier, Juan José Ibarretxe. And it runs a region that has more autonomy than just about any other in Europe. [...]

The Basque country is, as ever, being watched intently in Catalonia, which is both bigger and stronger. With a population of 7.1m, Catalonia is home to almost one in six Spaniards. It has plenty of sovereigntists of its own, a few of whom burnt pictures of King Juan Carlos when he visited Barcelona recently. Catalans were also irritated when the Madrid parliament voted this week to bar sub-national sports teams from international competitions.

In Catalonia Mr Zapatero has, at least, done his homework by securing a new autonomy deal that Catalans approved in a referendum last year. He hopes that the new deal has sorted out Catalonia for a generation—and that if a moderate wins the PNV leadership, a similar deal might even work with the Basques. Yet the sovereigntists are now getting noisier in Catalonia, ahead of next March's general election. Spain's regional tensions seem likely to continue for a while yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2007 6:20 AM
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