Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

5 Autonomic praxis

Having pointed out the principal political problems of the Basque Country, and the responses provided to them by the Statute of Autonomy, it is appropriate to weigh the practical results achieved in these twelve years of autonomy.

5.1 Violence

ETA's activity has had serious consequences for the whole of Basque society. Its activity has left hundreds of families torn apart by death, injuries, imprisonment, and exile. It has caused deep splits and internal conflict in Basque society and the nationalist movement, it is contributing to an economic crisis, and it is threatening the stability of the democratic system.

In recent years all Basque political forces except for HB have actively opposed violence. In January 1988, the forces opposing violence subscribed to the Ajuria Enea Pact, an agreement to normalize and seek peace for the Basque Country. Since the signing of this agreement, ETA has found itself in a progressively more delicate and difficult political situation. Socially, Basque society's rejection of ETA is becoming more and more generalized and intense. Politically, ETA and HB are weaker and ETA has suffered numerous arrests, thus debilitating its operative capacity. Nevertheless, it still maintains a significant ability to carry out terrorist activity.

In any case, violence is being more and more clearly dissociated from the Basque national construction process, particularly from statutory development. While recognizing that the violence has a clear political component and that certain characteristic claims, such as the right to self-determination, have not been acknowledged, virtually all Basque political forces now agree that political violence has no justification whatsoever.

5.2 Self-determination

Traditionally, the right to self-determination has been expressed as a demand for an independent, national State. But important changes are now occurring due to the state-nation crisis, which, as is becoming clearer, suggests that self-determination no longer constitutes a synonym for independence. This is increasingly apparent in Europe, where two alternatives to the national problem are now proposed. One is the creation of new national states; the other, the transformation, surpassing, even disappearance of existing ones.

In Europe today, political change is taking place on three levels. Nation states, though remaining the typical, dominant form, are affected by a serious crisis. Certain supra-state bodies of integration have come into play; they are still weak but have a clear mandate to become stronger quickly. There is also the resurgence or, in some cases, consolidation of certain social formations proclaiming their own political power.

According to the classical conception of sovereignty, nation states have historically tended to be self-sufficient. Perhaps the most explicit expression of such self-sufficiency is the traditional conception of the border as a rigid line denoting the separation between specific territories under the sovereignty of each state. However, the intensification of trade, the mobility of people as a consequence of economic well-being and the ease of travel, and the progressive similarity of culture resulting from the exchange of goods, culture, and communications media are rapidly putting an end to this old concept of the border, substituting it with international cooperation and pulverizing the classical concept of sovereignty.

Intra-European relations, based until recent times on antagonism among the various nation states, are moving toward an enriching and positive cooperative relationship extending beyond state levels and structures. The prerogative of international relations is no longer exclusively that of the states. Regional entities and institutions have an ever-intensifying international presence and many of them are growing in importance: for example, transferred cooperation conventions and private mercantile, professional, and cultural bodies.

These new realities are causing a profound change in the theoretical conceptions on which nation states have traditionally been founded. We are on the threshold of a new world. The nation-state/ Industrial-Revolution symbiosis is tending to be superseded by new forms of political organization and structuring, which may reduce the nation state to a mere historical category comparable to the feudal state or the absolutist state. In seeking new kinds of legal-political structure, it is indispensable to avoid repeating the mistake committed by the liberal revolutionaries at the time of the nation states' formation. The new design of political power, manifested in Europe in the form of the European Union, must take into account the diversity of the collective peoples of which it is composed. Otherwise, it risks wiping out the existing formations.

To date, regions have lacked an official existence in the seat of the European Union. The presence of certain regions in the EU sphere has not been determined or favoured by the EU's institutions but rather by the internal, federal, or regional structure of the states to which they belong. Such is the case of the Lander Germans and, to a lesser degree, of some Italian regions. The solution to the nationalist problem in Europe seems intimately linked to the way in which the EU's institutional development proceeds. In such development, it would appear necessary to grant important protagonist status to the regions. While realizing that this would not be exhaustive, and while centring exclusively on the political, institutional sphere, we consider that such development could be based on five core concepts:

(i) Institutionalization of a two-level, federal structure in which not only states are represented, but also regions (Lander, Autonomous Communities, etc.). Perhaps this could be achieved by means of a Regional Council or Senate, with its own legislative authority its own political decision-making powers.

(ii) Direct participation of regions in matters of their particular interest or competence, by two means: (a) through an office or delegation near the headquarters of the Community institutions, without power of decision, but with a substantial informational and administrative capacity; and (b) through the state's central bodies in the negotiation and establishment of EU norms, as long as the matters affect their material competencies.

(iii) Execution, on the part of the regions, of EU decisions in all areas affecting their competence.

(iv) The regions' exercising of an intense and ample leading role in so-called "transnational relations," that is, all foreign activities meant to favour economic, social, and cultural development. These would entail, for example: visits abroad made by regional delegations; the invitation of representatives from foreign countries; participation in commercial or tourist activities; the organization of meetings, studies, and even the making of informal agreements with other European regions or foreign countries.

(v) Finally, in those regions which, like the Basque Country, are situated in a border area, it would seem indispensable to strengthen trans-border cooperation for the common good of the diverse regions. An open interpretation of article 8-A of the Single European Act, which defends the setting in motion of the internal market in an area without internal borders, could enormously facilitate the development of border regions, thus making the creation of supra-state regional centres possible and resolving historical conflicts.

In significant sectors of Basque nationalism, and with reference to the right to self-determination, an important change of orientation can be perceived in recent years. There is an implicit renunciation of the attainment of an independent sovereign state, substituting this claim for a demand for protagonist status within the European Union.

5.3 Territorial integration

As has already been indicated, the Statute establishes an arrangement based on the territories' will. Navarre did not consent to becoming part of the inter-Basque institutional group, choosing instead to remain outside. The three remaining provinces did consent without raising any problems, at least in the beginning. Nevertheless, the composition of internal representation, which was of a clearly federal type and was created with equal numerical representation for the three provinces, was soon the subject of significant complaint in Biscay, the province with the largest population, because its genuine weight appeared to be reduced. As a consequence of the predominance of nationalism in this province, this dissatisfaction was not demonstrated explicitly in the years that followed.

Another, more important fissure is that produced in Alava. This province has the smallest population; yet the political capital of the Autonomous Community lies here, and most of the latter's administration takes place in it. Based on a supposed "victimization" which has no basis in fact, since Alava has undoubtedly been the province profiting most from the autonomy "Alava Unity," a political force whose economic origins are very unclear, has emerged. This party opposes nationalism, considering it contrary to Alava's specific interests. It involves a strictly provincial, political force, although a relatively important one, which puts into question the territorial integrity of the Basque Country, though its discourse is basically centred on the rejection of nationalism. In summary, in a Basque Country undergoing an upheaval due to problems of a very diverse nature, even the problem of its own territory has yet to be resolved.

5.4 Public security

In accordance with the Statute text, and by agreement with the State Administration, in 1980 the Basque Autonomous Police emerged. Since then their numbers have been increasing steadily. Currently, approximately 5,000 officers have been deployed throughout the territory, with the deployment in the capital cities not set to be finalized until 1995.

Since its appearance, this police force under the authority of the Basque Government has been involved in a tough confrontation with the State police force, with the latter jealously hanging onto its authority over public order, an authority which was justified by the battle against ETA terrorism. The central Administration has been clearly reluctant to favour the deployment of a police force dependent on a nationalist government which, moreover, showed initial misgivings about joining in the anti-terrorist struggle. This led to the central powers' disputing the Statute text concerning the fundamental role reserved for the autonomous police.

At the end of the 1980s, the central and Basque governments reached an agreement in which the autonomous police were acknowledged as a police force with full powers, and, as such, their leading, even exclusive, function in the ordinary sphere of citizen security was granted. The agreement coincided with an undeniable involvement of the autonomous police in the fight against terrorism. Because their officers are originally from the Basque Country, and thus are highly familiarized with the population and area, they have been quite successful in the anti-terrorist struggle - a fact that has turned them into a target, currently only in threat, of the terrorist organization, ETA.

One issue remains to be resolved. The autonomous police force still lacks a clear legal framework, since no legal resolution has been passed allowing for the development of a Statute and governing the organization's function, composition, and regulations. Thus, we find ourselves with an important police force, devoid of sufficient legal regulations.

Problems have also arisen between the autonomous police and the local police. The latter depend on the town halls and play important roles in the provincial capitals. Vagueness concerning these police forces' jurisdiction has been an additional source of conflicts when different groups take action in the same matters. Therefore, what is needed is a law ordaining the different areas of authority and clearly designating the distribution of activity among the different police forces operating in the same territory.

Finally, the State Administration's aim of monopolizing the judicial police, specializing in investigating crimes and tracking the perpetrators, has not been achieved in the Basque Country. This is a result of the "full capacity" nature of the autonomous police. One last precaution taken by the central Administration has to do with the relative prohibition of the autonomous police's use of powerful weapons, thus avoiding their intervention in activities beyond their responsibilities as police officers. Despite these problems, the current deployment of the autonomous police is taking place normally.

5.5 The regime of linguistic co-officiality

In addition to granting the native language, Basque, a status equal to that of Spanish, an important policy promoting Basque is also being implemented in the form of economic subsidies for publishing and education. Several years ago, a television channel (ETB), dependent on the Autonomous Community and broadcasting only in Basque, was also inaugurated.

The implantation of bilingualism in public administration has been questioned, particularly with respect to autonomous and municipal areas. The State Supreme Court has ruled, since 1984, that the valuing of Basque language abilities on tests for selecting civil servants discriminates against citizens who do not know Basque. The basis of such examinations is thereby nullified. The injustice of such declarations and their contradiction of what is established in the Constitution and the Statute have led the Constitutional Court to break with said doctrine, establishing a practice of implanting bilingualism in public offices.

The pragmatism and undeniable gradualism of co-officiality applied to administration ought to avoid conflict in such delicate matters. Nevertheless, the privileges supposedly conceded to Basque have been used by State political parties as missiles in the electoral battle, thus sparking yet another conflict. The Socialist Party's access to the government (they are the prime advocates of revising the co-official policy) has relieved the tension, while at the same time entailing a slowing down of measures of public support for Basque.

An open debate is currently taking place on the legal nature of education centres teaching exclusively in Basque (Ikastolas), and the support they receive from the Basque Government. The Socialist Party, which is in charge of educational policy, is attempting to equate them with all other public centres, depriving them of the additional economic support they have enjoyed to date. The issue has yet to be closed.

5.6 The possibility of historical rights

The importance of the Additional Resolution of the Spanish Constitution has already been pointed out. In it, the Basque People's non-renunciation of their historical rights is admitted, as is the need to bring them up to date. It is worth noting that, in practice, the uniqueness of Basque autonomy lies in this recognition. Current demands do not entail a return to legendary rights, but a recognition of certain, exceptional areas of power reserved exclusively for the Basque political institutions. The conferring of such matters has previously been reviewed in a pact with the State, and has signified special recognition of the Basque Country, reaching beyond the highest levels of autonomy held by the other Autonomous Communities. In addition, and through the pact system itself, certain matters not contained in the statutory text, such as transportation, roads, and local civil servants, have been permitted to be taken on by the Basque Autonomous Community. Related to this, it turns out that a constitutional clause which originally appeared to be purely declarative has become the main basis for Basque autonomous singularity.

6 Conclusion

It is true that the Statute of Autonomy has not proven capable of resolving some of the Basque Country's traditional demands. Nevertheless, it is providing satisfactory results. The Statute of Autonomy is demonstrating its validity as an effective instrument for recovering Basque identity. The progress made in the last twelve years is substantial and the necessary foundations have been laid for a recovery of the Basque language and culture. It also serves important functions in educational material. A Basque Parliament and Government exist with ample authority to develop their own institutional policies, always within a global framework designed by the Spanish Constitution, and their own public administration with an extensive decision-making capacity. The Basque Autonomous Community has a relatively strong spending power, allowing it to plan the Basque economy, albeit within the limits of the Spanish economy and international conditions.

The issues still pending are extremely varied, and their solution depends on very diverse conditions. Some of the problems are indigenous to the Basque Country. This is the case of the social division between the nationalist and non nationalist worlds. As a result of this split, Basque society has yet to achieve an acceptable degree of homogeneity and social integration. It is a destructured society and therefore suffers internal conflict and strife. Something similar occurs with respect to violence. It involves a problem with clearly political origins, but which at the current time has no justification whatsoever. It is a basically indigenous problem whose solution mainly, although not exclusively, lies within the Basque society itself. In order to resolve the problem of violence, as well as that of homogenization of Basque society, an institutional leadership by the Basque Government is desperately needed. This type of leadership occurred during the Second Republic and the Civil War.

Among the various indigenous problems, the current delicate economic situation in the Basque Country stands out. Basque industrial activity has traditionally revolved around the iron and steel industry. The crisis in this sector is producing a genuine dismantling of the Basque industrial fabric, which, for the moment, has not adapted itself to current technological changes. Terrorism causes additional difficulties for economic recovery, since foreign investors are clearly reluctant to intervene in the Basque economic recovery, even though this is a developed country with a large industrial culture.

Another large set of problems arises from the non-recognition of the right to self-determination on the part of the Spanish Constitution. This is a fundamental and delicate issue for which the Spanish State has not yet managed to find an adequate solution. The problem has lost much of its potency in the expectation of possible solutions provided by the final design of the construction of Europe. Therefore, an adequate response from the Spanish State, as well as from the European Union, will be crucial in order to resolve this and other similar matters existing in Western Europe. An inadequate policy could ignite and destroy Spanish democracy and subsequently European unity. As an example of this statement, the fact that HB (the majority party in Guipuzcoa, with great influence in the entire Basque territory) does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the Spanish Constitution and Basque Statute and refuses to participate in parliamentary political life is highly upsetting to Basque democratic stability.

The third set of problems is that related to territorial integrity. Basque nationalism has always set its sights on the unification of these seven historical Basque territories. In this aspiration, the Basque Country, which sociologically and historically represents a single unit, is nevertheless, politically divided into three different entities: the Basque Autonomous Community; Navarre; and the continental Basque country. In the case of Navarre, there is no legal problem whatsoever in carrying out its integration. The problem is political, in so far as the Navarrese majority parties have preferred not to join the rest of the Basque Community to date. The final solution to this problem will depend, in the end, on the Navarrese themselves. Therefore, the Navarrese issue cannot by any means be considered a structural problem of the Basque Country, but is rather a specific problem of nationalism. As far as the French Basque territories are concerned, it is true that it would currently be legally impossible to integrate them into the Basque Autonomous Community. However, it is also true that even if such a union were viable, citizens would almost certainly reject it, at least as things stand today.

One final set of problems remains: those derived from the application of the Statute of Autonomy. Despite the Statute's approval, the relationship between the State and the Autonomous Community still involves conflict, as can be seen by the numerous occasions on which the Constitutional Court has had to intervene to resolve conflicts over competencies. There is mutual distrust between the two administrations, expressed by the State in its continued attempt to reduce Basque authority and by the Basques in their permanent stance of demand-making. Although time has passed, some significant competencies which, according to the Constitution and the Statute, correspond to the Autonomous Community, have yet to be transferred. A process of mutual and loyal collaboration between both administrations is, therefore, indispensable in order to resolve, once and for all, this age-old controversy.

Contents - Previous - Next