PNV's softer stance offers Socialists hope
Basque nationalists hint at cooperation with government18 March 2008
BILBAO/MADRID - The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) on Monday moved toward supporting the 8 April investiture of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero for a second term, putting aside long-standing differences over Basque aspirations of home rule and suggesting that the two sides could work together more closely in the future.
In an interview on Basque public television, PNV President Iñigo Urkullu suggested his party would be willing to cooperate with the Socialists over the coming legislature, possibly lending the votes of its six representatives to make up for the Socialist Party's lack of a majority in Congress.
And, in a sign of its willingness to cooperate, Urkullu indicated that the party may cease pressing Madrid for a controversial referendum on self-rule as demanded by Basque premier and fellow PNV leader Juan José Ibarretxe.
"If there is a sincere process of negotiation with Madrid, no one is going to press for the referendum," Urkullu said.
Urkullu's offer could, however, be a tough pill to swallow for the Socialist Party, forcing it to enter into negotiations on devolving further powers to the Basque Country. Zapatero's party nonetheless needs the votes of at least six other representatives to pass legislation, and deals with the conservative PP and centre-right Catalan coalition CiU look unlikely.
Meanwhile, the PNV is still reeling from the election, having failed for the first time to win more votes than the Socialists in a single Basque province.
Yesterday, Socialist officials appeared to welcome the PNV's stance. "The election results seem to be causing the PNV to change its strategy and understand the message of the Basque electorate," Socialist spokesman Diego López Garrido said.
[Copyright EL PAÍS /J. M. GASTACA / L. R. AIZPEOLEA / ANGELES ESPINOSA 2008]