Spanish right and left unite in Basque Country
The union between arch enemies Spanish Conservatives and Socialists will see them share power in the Basque region and attempt to fight against ETA.
MADRID – Spanish Conservatives and Socialists have buried their differences to establish an unprecedented coalition in the Basque region to sideline nationalists and battle the armed separatists of ETA.
The deal means that the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) will be out of power after 30 years and the region in northeast Spain will be run by national parties that have no plans for any change in the status of the Basque country, which geographically includes parts of southwest France.
This "government agreement" represents the "officialisation of the rapprochement" between Spanish rightwing and leftwing politicians on the Basque issue, after overtures by the Socialists to ETA led nowhere, according to Florencio Dominguez, a specialist in Basque affairs and editor in chief of the Vasco Press news agency.
The key point in the deal concerns the fight against ETA, deemed a terrorist organisation, which returned to violence after an abortive peace process.
Tentative peace negotiations with ETA were launched by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2006 but the talks collapsed when the group killed two people in a bomb attack at Madrid airport in December 2006. ETA formally called off a ceasefire six months later, and since then the government has taken a tough line against the group and its outlawed political wing Batasuna.
Spain's Supreme Court earlier banned two pro-independence parties from participating in the regional election because of their links to ETA and Batasuna.
The deal between the conservative Popular Party and the Socialists makes Socialist Patxi Lopez head of the regional government and foreshadows "greater Basque police involvement to delegitimise violence" by ETA, said Gorka Landaburu, editor of the magazine Cambio 16.
He said a "certain impunity" had developed for radical separatists, with, for example, posters of support for ETA prisoners never being torn down in Basque villages although they are illegal.
The new president of the Basque regional parliament, conservative Arantza Quiroga (C) is flanked by the newly elected members of the Parliament Board, Jesus Loza (from left), Blanca Roncal , Andoni Iturrate and Mikel Martinez at the opening session of the new Basque regional parliament on 3 April 2009, in the northern Spanish Basque city of Vitoria.
The arrival of the new government could lead to more arrests in circles close to ETA, Dominguez said.
In the past five years the police, who are responsible to the regional government, had made only four arrests, he said.
The arrival of the left-right coalition "will open the windows of a regional administration controlled for years by the nationalists," Landaburu said.
"The PNV had shaped the Basque Country in its own fashion and is going to lose a load of jobs in the administration," he said, a change that "will bring oxygen and fresh air" without, however, revolutionising the region.
Even so the new coalition is promising some strong symbolic actions, such as a "profound reform" of Basque radio and television to ensure "an editorial line" that respects "the plurality of Basque society," according to their agreement.
In particular weather maps on television will no longer show "the Greater Basque Country", embracing both the Spanish and France Basque countries and the Spanish province of Navarra, but only Euskadi (the Spanish Basque Country).
In the area of language, the new coalition promises to observe the status quo, with a choice of language in schools, blocking an initiative by the outgoing regional government to have classes taught only in Basque.
But Socialist plans to revise the region's present autonomous status will be abandoned since, according to Dominguez, such a reform "would be meaningless without PNV backing".
The deal meets a "state aim" shared by the two main Spanish parties to "erase the Basque difference and ensure the Basque Country merges ever more closely with Spain," according to Joseba Egibar, a PNV leader.
6 April 2009
AFP / Expatica