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The EU and the Basque Peace Process

This is a follow-up to last week’s post on ETA’s latest statement. In the communique ETA asks the European Union “to encourage and push forward an open process to find a definitive solution to the conflict.” But would this entail?

This latest peace process differs from earlier attempts in that the Basque left has made a concerted effort to open the process within the international arena. This is mainly due to a lack of other options: after the 2006 fiasco, the Spanish government, judiciary, and political scene has little interest in reaching a settlement. Not when it appears that state security forces had ETA on the ropes.
The Basque Left has thus had to innovate and to begin a new process via outside channels. And they’ve been pretty successful at it. I won’t get into details here. For the story, see this interview with Brian Currin, the South African attorney whose work has been crucial in getting ETA to end its violent campaign.
The international dimension, however, is quite different from the EU dimension. What then can the EU do?
Recent history may provide some answers. The EU could issue a resolution in support of talks between ETA and the Government, as they did in 2006. Of course, things were considerably different then. The Zapatero Government was more active in the process and the Spanish parliament had formally approved of talks with ETA. The current conservative administration, however, has firmly rejected the possibilities of such talks – much as they did then. The EU could also remove Batasuna from its “terrorist organization list,” even though Batasuna no longer exists.These would be largely symbolic gestures. Such gestures, however, could have a positive effect by isolating Spain. But, the conservative Rajoy Administration may be impervious to this. They’ve spent the last few years belittling those involved in resolving the South African and Irish conflicts as naïve do-gooders who know nothing about the Basque conflict. And they apparently don’t care how foolish they look in the process.
The only way that the EU could have any real influence is if it were to present a strong front in favor of conflict resolution in Spain. And since Spain may need the EU to bail them out, this could actually have an effect. I don’t see this as happening, though. When it comes to “national security,” European states don’t like to interfere in the affairs of their EU neighbors. This is especially true when separatism and minority rights are involved. Governments fear that their meddling could provoke others to counter-meddle in their internal affairs. (Spain tends to be an exception to this rule, as evidenced by their attitude toward Kosovo andScotland.)

The EU may be more important for Basque nationalist goals in a post-conflict scenario, particularly in terms of promoting cross-border relations between Basques in France and Spain, as detailed by Julen Zabala and Oier Imaz. In the past such efforts have been thwarted by security concerns, so the end of ETA may remove a significant obstacle.
One of the drawbacks, as Zabala and Imaz point out, is that EU cross-border efforts usually relate to economic and not political matters. In terms of all-Basque institutions, however, this could actually be an attractive selling point. Basques in Spain might see it as a way to distance themselves from a tanking Spanish economy while Basques in France may find closer economic ties with their industrialized southern counterparts as a way to attract investment. Paris, after all, has demonstrated an almost total lack of interests in the Basque economy outside of tourism-related enterprises.
There are precedents for such cross-border economic cooperation. Over the last few years, efforts have been made to promote economic relations between the Basque Autonomous Community, Navarre, and Aquitaine. More recently, this trans-regional enterprise has embraced the promotion of the Basque language.
While this all sounds nice in theory, for cross-border relations to occur significant cultural barriers between Basques on either side of the border must be overcome. Mutual distrust and the narcissism of small (and not-so-small) differences have hampered the development of a shared Basque identity. Local efforts, not the EU, will have to accomplish such a development. The most promising effort – as well as the most controversial – is the Udabilitza project aimed at creating a quasi-official “Basque parliament” comprising of mayors from throughout the Basque Country, north and south of the frontier. After nearly a decade of Spanish opposition – culminating in the Spanish Audencia Nacional rejecting the government’s claims that the institution was a product of ETA – there’s a new impetus to form this cross-border institution.
“There are two borders,” a Basque activist recently told me, “and the one in people’s minds is much stronger than the one created by France and Spain.” Overcoming the very real cultural and ideological differences between “French” and “Spanish” Basques will take years of patient work. It may even prove more difficult than getting ETA to lay down its arms.


Originally posted at Bullets and Ballots.
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Philippe Duhart

Philippe Duhart