As the central government in Madrid squares off against secessionists in Catalonia, separatists in another Spanish region have begun formally laying the groundwork for their own push for independence.
EH Bildu, a leftwing pro-independence party in the Basque country, has submitted a bill to the regional parliament that it hopes will pave the way for consultations to be held in the region. “The aim is to put the political, economic and social future of the Basque country in the hands of its citizens,” EH Bildu’s spokesman, Hasier Arraiz, said as he presented the legislation.
The bill mirrors that passed by the Catalan parliament last year, which aimed to create legal cover for a consultation on independence in the region. Spain’s constitutional court suspended the regional law, but Catalonia pressed ahead with the consultation, rebranding it as a symbolic referendum.
The Catalan leader, Artur Mas, and two associates are under investigation for disobedience, abuse of power and obstruction of justice over their actions.
Basque separatists have shied away from specifically mentioning independence, but they referred several times to Catalonia as they presented their bill. “It’s time to confront the state democratically. They are doing it in Catalonia and we want to do it in the Basque country,” Arraiz said.
The Basque bill has little chance of being passed, because EH Bildu holds only 21 of the 75 seats in the Basque parliament. Its actions, however, confirmed worries in Madrid that any concessions made to secessionists in Catalonia may have to be extended to separatist movements across the country.
The Basque leader, Iñigo Urkullu, who spoke earlier this year of his hopes of holding a consultation on independence in the region, sought to temper fears of contagion on Wednesday by saying that his Basque Nationalist party would not support the bill. “EH Bildu is putting forward initiatives out of internal necessity and for electoral purposes,” Urkullu told Cadena Ser radio in an interview.
His party would instead seek to negotiate any potential referendum with Madrid, he said. With weeks to go before Spaniards cast their votes in a general election, Urkullu said that any such dialogue was unlikely to happen under the current prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.
“Not the Rajoy I know,” he said. “I would like a leader like David Cameron, who can reach an agreement … to carry out a consultation to understand what citizens want and then respect the outcome and offer solutions.”
The Basque bill comes as three non-secessionist parties in Catalonia each filed complaints to Spain’s constitutional court on Wednesday, challenging a proposed motion to have the Catalan parliament announce the formal start of moves towards independence from Spain.
In 2007, authorities in the Basque country put forward plans to hold a referendum on “self-determination”, widely interpreted as a poll on the region’s right to secede from Spain. Spain’s constitutional court ruled the move illegal and blocked it.
Since 2012, EH Bildu has ranked as the second biggest political group in the Basque parliament. Their success in the last election was widely seen as a another step towards the end of Eta, the armed separatist group that claimed more than 800 victims in its push for an independent Basque homeland.
Eta announced an end to its violence in 2011, but it has since refused demands from Spanish officials to formally disarm.
Source: The Guardian