Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez

Institute of Human Rights

University of Deusto (Bilbao)












a)      Territorial aspects

b)      Population and Society



a)      The Model

b)      Bodies and Political Representation

c)      Legal aspects

d)      Self-Government and Guarantees










ABC                Act on Autonomy (Statute) of the Basque Country

APST              Autonomous Province of Südtirol

ATA                Act on Autonomy (Statute) of Trentino-Alto Adige

BAC                Basque Autonomous Community

ETA                Euskadi Ta Askatasuna / Basque Fatherland and Freedom

MEP                Member of European Parliament

PNV                Partido Nacionalista Vasco / Basque Nationalist Party

SVP                Südtiroler Volkspartei / South Tyrol´s People´s Party









The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the main legal and political elements of the current conflict in the Basque Country, through a comparison with the case of South Tyrol. Firstly, I will make a brief and general introduction about the Basque Country. Secondly, I will systematically describe the similarities and differences between the two case studies, Basque Country and South Tyrol, concentrating on the different legal and political aspects. Finally, I will draw some conclusions, including some future prospects.




The Basque Country[1] is located in South-western Europe, at the western corner of the Pyrenees Mountains, between the rivers Adour and Ebro. Geographically, the Basque Country covers approximately 20,000 km2, of which 18,000 in the south to the Pyrenees[2] and 2,000 to their north[3]. Physically, the country is very mountainous, with narrow valleys and very few plains. Some Basque rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean and others into the Ebro River. The weather is wet and moderate.


Map 1: Location of the Basque territory (shadow area: lands above 1,000 m.)



The concept of “Basque Country” referred initially to the Basque-speaking populations and, subsequently to the lands occupied by them. In the 1st century the Basque-speaking area was much wider than now, from Bordeaux  and Toulouse in the North, to Zaragoza in the South. By the last century, the influence of Latin languages had reduced the Basque-speaking area down to its present size.


Map 2: Regression of the Basque speaking area (centuries 7th-20th).



Nowadays, the concept and delimitation of the Basque Country is not a peaceful one. We consider the Basque Country to be formed by all the political or historical communities in which the Basque language[4] (Euskera) and culture have remained predominant in some way. However it is necessary to clarify that there is a strong political opinion stating that Upper Navarra[5] is not a Basque territory. In fact, the current Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) includes only the three provinces of Biscay (Bizkaia), Gipuzkoa and Alava/Araba, with a size of around 7.000 km2.


Map 3: The “seven Basque territories” and the BAC


Iparralde is located in the 64th territorial administration division or French Département, Atlantic Pyrenees. The population of the Basque area is only 40% of the total population of this Département. Even the capital of the Département, that is Pau, is outside the Basque Country. This is one of the five constituent départements of the region of Aquitaine.. The capital of the region is Bordeaux. The regions in France enjoy some administrative competencies but no sort of political autonomy system has been developed in the French Republic.


Map 4: Spanish autonomous communities and French département 64.


The current population of the Basque Country is around 2.8 million people, 2.1 million living inside the BAC. The metropolitan area of Bilbao totals approximately 1 million people. One third of the actual population moved into the Basque Country from different Spanish regions, especially in the sixties and seventies. Only one third of the people have native grandparents. There are also very important Basque communities in Latin America and in the United States (Nevada and California). Foreign immigrants represent today in the Basque Country no more than 2 % of the population. Most of them are European citizens, though there are also an increasing number of people coming from Morocco and different countries of Latin America.


Map 5: Approximation to the distribution of the population in the Basque territories (picture shows industrial employment amount per municipalities)



In linguistic terms, approximately 25% of the population have Basque as mother tongue (30% in the BAC). The linguistic policy on the Basque language in the Autonomous Community of Navarra remains a conflictive issue. In general terms, more or less half a million people on both sides of the Pyrenees speak Basque. The Basque language has no affiliation with any other languages and its origins are not known. Euskera is not an Indo-European language although the vocabulary displays a strong influence of Latin, Spanish, and French words. The Basque language has some phonetic and semantic characteristics, which shows that it is a very ancient language. Its grammatical structure belongs to the SOV[6] model. At the same time, it is an agglutinant language, with a nominal declination of 14 different cases. The most complex issue in Euskera is the verb, which varies not only according to the subject but also in relation to the direct and indirect objects. Some aspects of Basque phonetics, such as having only 5 vowel sounds, were adopted by Spanish and Gascon (a Roman language spoken in the Southwest of France, variety of Occitan). Nowadays, we can distinguish 8 dialects in Euskera[7]. It is not always easy for one variety speaker to understand another variety. In 1964, the Academy for the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia) set up the unified Basque (Euskera Batua), with a common standard for writing, which is the variety used in mass media, education, and public administration.


Map 6: Basque-speaking areas.




Map 7: Distribution of dialects of the Basque language.

Economically, the Southern Basque Country is one of the richest areas in Spain in terms of per capita income. Unemployment rate is rather low outside the metropolitan area of Bilbao. The average income in the BAC is very similar to that of the European Union.


The process of legal and political construction of the Spanish and French monarchies was consolidated over the course of the Modern and Contemporary Ages. The differences observed in the political regime of the Basque Provinces of Biscay, Alava, Guipuzcoa, and Navarra, remained intact until the nineteenth century. On the French side, however, every political difference was suppressed during the Revolution.


Following the French model, a Spanish nationalism began to evolve along the 19th century. The attempts to politically unify the kingdom came into conflict with the special political regime of the Basque Provinces. Laws enacted in 1839 and 1876 would suppress the most important aspects of this semi-independent political system. Nationalism was also to develop among the Basques in the late second half of the nineteenth century, creating a political party, the EAJ-PNV[8], which gained ground rapidly.


In 1931, following the proclamation in Spain of the Second Republic, a system was established in the Constitution to enable some regions to gain autonomy. The Basque Country (without Navarra) elected an autonomous government in 1936 that was suppressed a year later after the conquest of the whole territory by insurgents´ military forces in the Spanish Civil War. The Franco regime period was characterised by a savage repression of the Basque national and linguistic identity. As a counteraction to this repression, new left-leaning nationalist groups sprang up, including in some cases the use of armed struggle to combat the dictatorship. Amongst these groups, ETA[9] was founded in 1962 and still carries out violent action, although popular support for the use of violence is becoming marginal.


The current Basque conflict, however, has not to do directly with the armed struggle, but with the political controversy about the sovereignty and the right to self-determination. The conflictive situation is lived in different degrees all across the country, but more strongly in the Southern part. The present system of autonomy in force for the Southern Basque Country is based on the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the historical rights of the referred four territories. Nowadays, Navarra is an Autonomous Community of its own, while the three provinces of Biscay, Gipuzkoa, and Alava set up the Basque Autonomous Community since 1979. For the purposes of this paper I will compare in general the situation and political system of the Autonomous Province of Bozen, on the one hand, and the BAC, on the other. Therefore, I will hereinafter refer to the BAC.






Table 1: Basic data of BAC and APST


                                                                       BAC                           APST

Size (km2)                                                      7,000                          14,000

% of the state territory                                         1.5                               4.6

Population (thousands)                        2,100                              400             

% of the state population                                     5.2                               0.8

Inhabitants/km2                                                  300                                29

Capital                                                            Vitoria/Gasteiz Bolzano/Bozen

Share of vote for nationalist forces                   55-60%                       65-70%





a)      Territorial aspects


The size of the APST (14,000 km2) is very similar to that of the Southern Basque Country (17,000 km2), and approximately the double of the BAC (7,000 km2). In any case both autonomous territories are very small in comparison with their respective states, Spain (BAC is only 1.5%), and Italy (4.6% for the APST).


Both areas are characterised by their dramatic landscape. In both cases, we find a very mountainous territory that determines the traditional way of life in many aspects. In the case of South Tyrol, the average altitude of the land is quite higher due tot he fact that it is a Central European territory far away from the sea. Basque Country, however, is located on the coastal zone of the Gulf of Biscay, but, to a great extent, the structure of the territory is also based on narrow valleys surrounded by impressive peaks or mountains.


Although the two countries are geographically difficult areas, both Tyrol and the Basque Country are home of natural ways for the flows of peoples witnessed in the North-South axis. Therefore, they have not been isolated territories in any case, since they have seen the transit of numerous peoples and groups through their respective territories. In the case of Tyrol, the Brenner has been for many centuries the easiest way of communication between the German and Latin worlds, while in the Basque Country, the western corner of the Pyrenees has been one of the two main ways linking the Iberian Peninsula with the rest of Europe.


Map 8: Location of the Basque lands (shadow area: lands above 1,000 m.)



The two regions are similar in that both are border regions. APST is located on the Italian border with the Austrian Republic, while BAC makes frontier with France. Even more, the historical territories of Tyrol or the Basque Country are to date divided between two different states. In the first case, North and East Tyrol remain part of Austria, while South Tyrol was annexed to Italy in 1919. For the second case, as we have already explained, the border of the Pyrenees has been dividing for many centuries a common Basque language and culture between the French and Castilian-Spanish political entities. In both cases the autonomous area we are referring to here is located in the Southern part of the frontier.


This element of territorial division is to some extent repeated in the interior of the respective Southern territories. In the Basque situation, the perception of administrative division is due to the fact that Navarra has not been incorporated to the BAC. Even more, inside the BAC, the so-called historical territories maintain a high level of political autonomy. In the South Tyrolean case, APST is one of the two constituent provinces of the Autonomous Region of Trentino-Alto Adige. At the same time, we should here remember that the five traditional Latin-speaking valleys were divided by the Fascist regime in 1924 and they are still divided into three different provinces: Badia and Gardena remain in the APST, but Fassa was incorporated into the autonomous province of Trento, while Livinalongo and Ampezzo are part of the Province of Belluno (Region of Veneto).


The last aspect concerning the territory is that of the delimitation. This appears to be an important issue in the current politics of South Tyrol and Basque Country. In the former case, there is no discussion on the territorial boundaries of the province, apart from the weak claim for the regrouping of the three Ladin valleys outside the APST, which becomes more and more difficult with the time. In the Basque Country, however, the separation of Navarra from the BAC constitutes a big issue, since the majority of the population in the BAC regards Navarra as a substantial part of the Basque history and culture. Many social, cultural, and political organisations work in the same line along the four territories of the Southern Basque Country, as does the Catholic Church. However, there is a very strong political attitude in the opposite sense, represented by the first party in this province, ally of the Spanish Popular Party. In the polls, around a fourth of the votes in Navarre go for Basque nationalist parties, and some areas in the Northwest of the territory show very high percentages of knowledge and use of the Basque language. This conflict on the delimitation begins with the nomination of the Country. There is no agreement even on the terminology to refer to the BAC or to the whole Basque area, which is considered by some sectors as a kind of Great-Basque Country idea. Paradoxically, there is much less disagreement about considering the Northern Basque Country (including Northern Navarre) as an integral part of the Basque Country. In this sense, a full understanding of the different meanings of the concept “Basque Country” depends on both the interlocutor and the context the term is used in. However, the main factor for recognising the territorial area referred to in any discourse is the ideological one.


b)      Population and Society


There is a substantial difference between the population of the BAC and the APST. The former hosts around five times more the population of the latter. As for the total of the state population, BAC comprises around 5.2% of the Spanish population, while APST represents only a 0.8% of the Italian population.


Both autonomous areas have in common linguistic plurality and religious homogeneity among their respective populations. Indeed, Tyrol and Basque Country have traditionally been strongly catholic societies. However, while in South Tyrol we find three different, clearly defined linguistic communities, the language does not constitute an element of clear social division in the BAC, though there exist there two main spoken languages. The separation of ethnic and linguistic communities that can be easily identified in South Tyrol, cannot be found in the Basque case. In fact, it is obvious that the knowledge of the Basque language plays a role in the socialisation of the people in the Basque-speaking areas and also in the social relations, but linguistic differences do not affect fundamental social attitudes in the Basque Country. National identity in the Basque area depends more on ideological aspects than on objective criteria of belonging to one or another social-cultural group.


Another important difference in the linguistic reality of both countries is that the German language (a minority language in the Italian State) is the dominant language for the population of the APST, while the Basque language is a minority language even inside the BAC. In this regard, it should be kept in mind that the German language is a very strong and official language in the neighbouring countries of Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, while the Basque language has no support from any state-like entity, and is also in a difficult situation in the Northern Basque Country.


Migration flows follow today a very similar pattern in both cases. The BAC was for many years a very attractive area for many inhabitants of rural areas in West and South Spain. However this big process of immigration stopped after the crisis in the late seventies. Immigrants from Third World countries arrive to the Basque country and South Tyrol in much lower percentages than to other Spanish or Italian regions. APST and BAC also share a good economic situation, as their respective per capita incomes are higher than the average of Italy and Spain. Both places can be considered as some of the richest areas in their respective states. The economic structure of both autonomous areas is mainly based on the third sector. Yet during the 20th century, the Basque Country was a very powerful industrial area while South Tyrol remained mainly living on the first sector. Nowadays, however, both societies enjoy a good level of life. As for the communications, they are also well provided countries in terms of motorways and roads. Railway links are much more developed in Tyrol, but BAC enjoys good air connections and even ferry links with England.




From a political point of view, South Tyrol and Basque Country are conflict-shaped social realities in which different and even contradictory political aspirations coexist. Indeed, in the Tyrolean case, there has been always a political aspiration in favour of reincorporating of the land to its kin-state or, at least, the recognition of the right of the South Tyrolean people to self-determination. This aspiration clashes with the state view of the territorial integrity of the Italian Republic. In the case of the Basque Country, the original aspiration for the Basque national identity is the independence of the country or, at least, the recognition of self-determination for the Basque people. On the other side, the national unity is one of the basic elements of the construction of the Spanish political identity. Therefore, both cases show a political conflict with contradictory political aspirations coming from far back in history.


When we use the term “Nationalist Ideology”, we normally refer to that aspiration to sovereignty that can be appreciated in several nationalities or national minorities that do not enjoy an own political framework or do not belong to their respective kin-state.  “State Ideology” in the sense of the maintenance of territorial integrity without consideration to the wishes for self-determination of these communities can be also considered as nationalistic, but this expression is not normally used in this sense. We will refer to this type of aspiration as  Unionist ideology”.


In this context, the origin of the nationalist ideology in South Tyrol or in the Basque Country relates to the idea of nation, which is consolidated in the 19th century. In the Basque area, the Basque national identity in the modern sense appears in the last decade of the 19th century, claiming the independence of the country from the states of Spain and France. These two states had also lived a process of nationalisation that, in the case of the Basque Country, had brought these provinces to an almost complete unification with the rest of the state. In South Tyrol, nationalism did not appear until it became necessary with the integration of the province in Italy. The fascist period did not allow this ideology to emerge and develop. Yet, at the end of the Second World War, the sense of political organisation of the South Tyrolean people around the SVP in a new form of nationalism appeared very clearly. The difference between the Basque and the Tyrolean nationalisms is that the aspirations of this ideology are lived differently in the practical arena: while in the Basque case, self-determination would be a step forward to the construction of a new political entity (which might be a new independent state), in South Tyrol, the process of self-determination would be addressed in terms of the unification with the kin-state and with the rest of Tyrol. In this sense, the former can be considered as a Separatist Nationalism and the latter as an Irredentist Nationalism.


Both conflicts have a common past of suffering during the 20th century under different totalitarian regimens. In the Tyrolean case, the fascist period lasted for 20 years from 1922 to 1943. After the surrender of the Italian forces, the Nazi annexed de facto South Tyrol and other territories under the new entity of Alpenvorland until the end of the war in 1945. In the Basque case, the totalitarian experience begun under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1929), but a more brutal repression was suffered under Franco’s regime for nearly 40 years (1937-1976).


In the same context, it is worth mentioning that the nationalist ideology has played in both cases a bigger role than the exclusively political one. The nationalist ideology has functioned as an element of socialisation and a tool for the construction and maintenance of the community itself. Nationalism, in this sense, has given to the autochthonous culture, language, and way of life the space to develop apart from the official net of the state. In both cases, with reference taken perhaps to the Irish nationalism of the 19th century as a model, nationalism has developed not only a strong political party (SVP in South Tyrol, PNV and others in the Basque Country), but also a wide web of cultural, sport, leisure, church associations, alternative systems of communications, community activities, gatherings, and many other issues to support the sense of community and the feeling of being different.


In the same sense, maybe it is of interest to realise that in both communities the local Catholic Church has traditionally played an important role to maintain and develop a different national identity, mainly through the linguistic heritage. And it is also clear the close link that there has traditionally been between the nationalist movement and important sectors of the local Church. Both South Tyrol and the Basque Country have a strong Catholic tradition, with very high indexes of active participation in the Catholic services, at least, until the seventies. This characteristic of Tyrolean and Basque nationalism was in fact shared by the traditional nationalism in Ireland and even Quebec until the seventies, both being also Catholic rural countries mainly.


It is worth mentioning here that both SVP and PNV share a Christian-Democrat ideology. Both were members of the European Christian-Democrat family from the foundation of this movement, although today PNV does not make part of the European Peoples Party due to the bitter differences with the Spanish Popular Party. However, for many years, the respective MEPs of the SVP and PNV have participated in the Popular Group of the European Parliament, while the affiliation to the European Free Alliance of political parties representing European nationalities has corresponded to much smaller parties as UFS (Union für Südtirol) and EA (Eusko Alkartasuna) respectively.


On the other hand, the unionist ideology is linked in both cases with the immigrant population living in the APST or the BAC. However, in the Tyrolean case, due to the clear division of linguistic communities, we can fully identify Italian-speaking population (which means today descendants of immigrants) with unionism, while in the Basque Country the reality is not so easy to establish. In fact, it is easy to show the link in the vote between immigrants (or descendants of immigrants) with unionist parties. And it is also true that one of the three geographical origins of the current Spanish Workers Socialist Party was the area of immigrant population around Bilbao. But the correlation between unionism and immigration is not definitive at all in deciding the vote. There is also a native sector, mainly linked with the industrial oligarchy of Biscay, which has traditionally been unionist and in general attached to the Spanish right-wing ideologies. Basque nationalism is of course stronger among native population, becoming almost monopolistic in the rural areas and between the Basque-speaking populations.


Map 9: Political performance and electoral geography in the Basque Country.



In any case, both countries show also an identity in the fact that nationalism is a majority ideology according to regional polls. In APST, the votes got by the different German and Ladin parties have always been more than 60%. In the Basque case, according to the autonomous polls celebrated since 1980, political parties in favour of self-determination for the Basque Country have in all cases obtained also more than 60% of the votes.



Table 2: Vote share of political forces in favour and against the right of the Basque people to self-determination in autonomous polls.


Vote share                                          1980    1984    1986    1990    1994    1998    2001


In favour of self-determination[10]           67.2     65.6     68.9     67.4     65.7     60.4     58.3

Against self-determination[11]                 32.8     34.4     31.1     33.6     34.3     39.6     41.7



In this respect, in both cases we can appreciate a very fixed behaviour in the electoral sociology. The native/immigrant ascendant, the linguistic ability and the rural/urban environment of living have a very strong influence on the vote of the South Tyrolean and Basque people. This influence is bigger in the case of the APST, since the social and political division of the linguistic communities is quite clearly defined. In the Basque Country, there is a very constant pattern in the electoral behaviour, but the flexibility is bigger in the sense that all political parties compete in practice for the votes of all social and linguistic sectors of the society. In any case, both societies are characterised, in my opinion, by a very strong electoral sociology with very little space for external conditions to have any influence. The vote is probably to be understood as an element of identification with the respective community, although in the Basque case the ideological element plays a role in many cases.


The most visible differences between the political reality in South Tyrol and that in the Basque Country have to do with the international element, the use of violence, and the perception of the conflict as a settled or open one.


Firstly, the fact that South Tyrol has its own kin-state makes a significant difference with regard to the Basque conflict. Austria has traditionally played a role in the Tyrolean controversy that no state can play for the Basque case. Even more, the division of the historical and cultural Basque territory in two different states does not make the conflict international, but rather a two-fold internal conflict. In this sense, the interests of French and Spanish states are convergent. Unlike in the Tyrolean case, no international organisation or institution has taken part in the solution of the Basque conflict, and both interested states are very reluctant to accept any international intervention to resolve the conflict. In the Basque case, there is not even the possibility of indirect intervention of a third state, as exemplified by the determinant role of the United States in the Northern Ireland conflict (which was indeed an international conflict before the USA’ took side, with the Irish Republic as a kin-state of the Catholic minority). Therefore, for any agreed solution, the contradictory political aspirations must be dealt with through the constitutional framework of the Spanish state.


The issue of violent expression of the conflict constitutes the second main difference between South Tyrol and the Basque Country. In both countries violent actions appeared during the sixties as a manifestation of the dissatisfaction of the nationalist side. But while in South Tyrol violence remains as something belonging to the past with no important consequences, in the Basque Country the use of violence by some sectors has enormously affected not only the everyday life of citizens but also the political debate.


It must be clearly said at this point that the current support for the armed struggle carried out by ETA in the Basque Country is becoming marginal. If the political branch of ETA (Batasuna) has fallen down to 10% of the votes in the last polls after the break of the cease-fire (against 18% during the cease-fire in 1998), we know from different surveys that at least half of the voters of Batasuna do not agree with the use of violence by ETA. This would mean that support for use of violence would be around 5%. It is also true that after 40 years of armed struggle and violence not only by ETA but also from the state side in many cases, there is an important sector of the population suffering directly from the conflict (relatives of prisoners, victims of state violence,…) whose position tends to be favourable to the one of ETA. We cannot forget the years of the brutal repression under Franco’s dictatorship and the campaigns of dirty war against ETA carried out by the Spanish governments during the seventies and eighties. Death-squads created by the Socialist government in the eighties caused around 30 dead, many of whom were completely innocent. Presently, there are still repeated accusations of tortures and bad-treatment of detainees, exceptional legislation for anti-terrorist fight that is questioned by the Council of Europe, and a very hard policy against the ETA prisoners and their relatives that is also widely contested by the Basque society. Of course, a vast majority of the Basque population has shown many times its disapproval of ETA’s criminal methods, and has asked for the dissolution of this group or, at least, its abandonment of the use of violent methods for political purposes. In any case, the violent element, not being a substantial part of the real political problem of the Basque Country, complicates very much the search of lasting resolution and makes the division between the different ideologies more and more bigger. In this respect, one can identify three different and far distant blocks in the Basque politics: defenders of and opponents to the right of self-determination and a third side represented by Batasuna, which does not condemn ETA’s violence, thus making impossible any kind of political collaboration with the rest of Basque national parties.


The third important element of difference in this field is the perception of the conflict as a live or settled one. In the South Tyrolean case, the current situation is that of a successful experience of solving the ethnic and political problem through the legal framework in force. Even more, the South Tyrolean autonomous regime and the complementary measures of minority rights protection are considered as an internationally recognised model of solution of national minority conflicts. Although there are political forces claiming for different degrees of reforms in the system (mainly the UFS on the nationalist side), a large majority supports the current framework through the acceptance by the SVP of the autonomy as an adequate model to live within the Italian state.


In the Basque case, however, the political conflict is not solved at all, not because there are still violent action by some extremist groups, but due to the persistence of a strong disagreement on the self-determination question and the lack of legitimacy of the whole legal framework. On the one hand, Spanish Constitution obtained a very narrow support of the Basque population in the referendum held on December 6, 1978 (30% of the census against 60% in the rest of the state). On the other hand, the Act on Autonomy for the Basque Country did get the support of more than 50% of the census, but an important sector (Batasuna) is still outside this system of autonomy and considers it as an imposition from the state. What is more, among the parties that once supported this Statute there is today a deep disagreement on the interpretation of many clauses and, more important, on the very role-played by this rule. While for the Spanish parties the Statute is the final point of the Basque self-government and the highest level of autonomy possible within the Spanish Constitution, for the Basque parties the Statute is only a step forward in the process of self-governance and it does not imply that the Basque people have renounced to their right to self-determination. For the former, the Constitution is the limit for any possible reform in the future; for the latter, the only limit would be the will expressed by the citizens of the BAC.


All this brings us to an easy conclusion that the Basque political conflict is far away from a lasting solution. Any analysis of the development of the Basque politics in the last five years would stress the affirmation that the disagreement between Spanish and Basque parties is even deeper than ever in the past. It is not easy to foresee the future evolution of the situation in the Basque Country, although there is a strong tendency towards a deadlock of the system, followed by a deeper division of the society into the three different political blocks we have referred to earlier.


Finally, another important element in the solution of this type of conflicts is the attitude of the population living in the state but outside the conflict region. In the Basque case, the Spanish population experience the conflict in a very sensitive way and the main Spanish political parties use the confrontation strategy against the Basque nationalism in search of socio-political cohesion. The political debate within Basque nationalism and fight against violent action are very often highlighted, and the public opinion is strongly shaped by views of the state mass media on this conflict. In such a situation, any possible solution in terms of recognition of the demands of the nationalists can be seen as a betrayal to of one of the essential elements of the state. At the same time, the possible elements of asymmetry that could be integrated in favour of the Basque Country would be understood as privileges, and other Autonomous Communities would claim for the same level of self-government. Thus, asymmetry becomes very difficult for the Spanish constitutional structure. It is rather subjective to stand that this element is also present in the South Tyrolean case. In our opinion, the perception of the South Tyrolean autonomy by the rest of Italy as a privileged system does exist. Yet, as things stand, we cannot compare the sensitiveness of the Italian population with regard to South Tyrol with that of the Spaniards in relation to the Basque Country. In fact, South Tyrol is not today an important issue in the Italian political agenda, while the Basque conflict is probably the most important aspect of the home politics in the Spanish state. Therefore, we consider this to be an important difference between both cases, at least in the current situation.




a) The model


Both BAC and APST are self-governed territories within the framework of the respective states of Spain and Italy. Therefore, we are in presence of two models of territorial autonomy as possible solution for national identity conflicts within nation-states. Both Spanish Kingdom and Italian Republic are unitary states that have adopted a decentralised model for the internal distribution of political power. In the two countries, the decentralisation is extended to the whole territory of the state[12] without transforming the model into a federal one. The Basque Country and South Tyrol benefit from this system of distribution of powers and their autonomies are considered within the constitutional framework. No right to self-determination is foreseen for these territories. They have only been granted limited rights of self-government.


If we look for an element of asymmetry in the autonomous systems hitherto studied in respect to the rest of autonomous communities or regions, the answer is controversial. In the case of South Tyrol, the Italian Constitution foresees 5 autonomous regions with a special statute, whereas the other 15 regions are considered ordinary statute regions. This could be considered as a first element of asymmetry, but in any case shared with other regions (Aosta, Friuli-Venecia Julia, Sardinia, Sicilia). Secondly, South Tyrol does not make up an autonomous region by itself. APST is one of the two provinces included in the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige. In this sense, there is a peculiarity for this region, because the level of the strongest political power is the provincial one and not the regional one. Finally, there is an element of asymmetry in the fact that the autonomy for South Tyrol is included in an international legal instrument, as we will explain later on. In the case of the Basque Country, there is in principle no element of asymmetry in the Spanish Constitution. The latter does not even mention the communities that would be set up at a later stage. What constitutes is in fact a peculiar reference to the Basque autonomy is the additional clause of the Spanish Constitution. This article refers to the historical rights of the territories with fueros[13], recognised for the provinces of Biscay, Gipuzkoa, Alava and Navarra the possibilities of keeping or recuperating some political powers even going further than what is established under Title VIII of the Constitution[14].


The Constitution protects and respects the historic rights of the territories with “fueros”.

The general updating of the “fuero” system shall be carried out, when appropriate, within the framework of the Constitution and the Statutes of Autonomy.



The asymmetry can also be appreciated by considering the territorial autonomy for the Basque Country as a kind of agreement between the Basque people and the state. This principle of the contract is further emphasised in the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country. The Additional Provision to the Act on Autonomy of the Basque Country states that:


            The acceptance of the system of autonomy established in this Statute does not imply that the Basque People waive the rights that as such may have accrued to them in virtue of their history and which may be updated in accordance with the stipulations of the legal system.


The Statute of Navarra includes also a very similar Additional Provision, on the basis of the “historical rights” that belong to the “historical territories” or territories with “fueros”. These are the remaining consequences of the special political regime of the history of the Basque Provinces of Biscay, Alava, Gipuzkoa, and Navarra, which lasted until the 19th century.


In a nutshell, none of both systems expressly recognises an asymmetrical model for the territorial autonomy of the BAC or APST, but in both cases some peculiar legal elements can be founded to defend a kind of special character of these autonomies.


b)      Bodies and political representation


APST and BAC have adopted an internal parliamentary system in which the president of the executive body is elected by the parliament and is accountable to it. A difference in the system is that the Basque president nominates the rest of the members of the government, while in South Tyrol it is the provincial council that elects the members of the executive, with due consideration of the linguistic groups. In both cases we find a parliament with a sole chamber. However, in the case of the Basque statute, the fact that Basque Parliament is composed by the same number of members of each of the provinces (or historical territories), regardless of their population (art 26 ABC), is a very remarkable characteristic. This has a great political influence in the composition of the parliament, once considered that Alava has only a fifth of the population of Biscay. The explanation for this strange composition is the idea of the Basque nationalism of building up a country highly decentralised, giving very much power to the territories and their respective parliaments and governments. In this sense, the central bodies of the autonomous community would have wide functions of co-ordination, and the parliament would remain the second chamber of a federal system. However, the political practice in the Basque Country has erased this initial idea and today the most important laws and decisions are taken by the central parliament of the community. The representation of the two provinces in the regional parliament of Trentino-Alto Adige is also the same, although in this case differences in population are not so important.


Likewise, the internal distribution of political power is also a common characteristic in the BAC and the autonomous Region of Trentino-Alto Adige. In both cases, under the autonomous level we find a provincial level of autonomy with its own parliaments and governments exercising political powers. This is in fact the case of the APST. In this respect, both systems have this common element of a complexity in bodies because instead of being a unique institutional level, there are two territorial levels within the autonomous territory.


Concerning institutional aspects, there is a difference in the autonomous systems that one should examine regarding to the existence or inexistence of clearly defined communities. Thus, in the main bodies of the APST and the Region, parliaments and governments, one should consider the representation of the linguistic groups living in the territory. This issue does not appear in the Basque system and the knowledge of a given language is not a requirement for the composition of the main bodies. In this sense, we cannot speak in the BAC of any kind of cross-community guarantees.


Finally, with respect to the representation of the autonomous territories in the state bodies, in both cases the representation of the parliament is made through the MPs elected in the respective territories. There is no participation of the autonomous entities in the election of the members of the constitutional court in any case. For the election of the head of state, APST participates through the representatives of the region, while there is no chance for this in the Spanish case, which is organised as a monarchy. As for a possible representation in the central government, there is no provision in the Basque case, while in the case of APST, article 52 ATA foresees the presence of the president of the province in the Council of ministers when the former is dealing with questions affecting the autonomous province.


c)      Legal aspects


In both cases the basic laws for the autonomous system are the Constitution and the respective Statutes of autonomy. For APST, the Italian Constitution and Act on Autonomy date back to 1947 and 1972 respectively. For the BAC, the Spanish Constitution was adopted in 1978, whereas the Statute is in force since 1979.


As for political rights, all Spanish citizens living in any municipality of the BAC are legitimated to vote in the Basque autonomous elections. Also are entitled to vote (and to be elected) all Spanish citizens living abroad, whose last residence in the Spanish state was located in any of the municipalities of the BAC, and their descendants. Therefore, there is no requirement of residence period to achieve the political rights in the Basque system. In APST and the Region of Trentino Alto-Adige, on the contrary, there is a requirement of four years of uninterrupted residence to be entitled to vote and be elected in regional and provincial polls, as established in article 25 ATA.


In the field of linguistic rights, ABC states, under article 6, that Basque and Spanish are both official languages in the whole territory. Everybody has the right to use any of these languages in private and public life. According to article 3 of the Spanish Constitution, Spanish citizens have the obligation of knowing Spanish language, but there is no obligation of knowing any other language of the state. The official statute of the Basque language follows a territorial model. Basque is also supposed to be official in some areas of Navarra. In theory, any citizen is entitled to use any of the official languages in his or her relations with any public administration, including the judicial power. However, the socio-linguistic reality of the country avoids full implementation of this provision. It must be said also that some public administrations, especially those depending on the central government are very reluctant to implement any measure to facilitate the incorporation of the Basque language into the public relations sphere.


Article 99 of ATA states that in the region German language is “parificata” with Italian. This clause could be considered as a proclamation of the official status of the German language in the whole region. However, this is not the interpretation commonly accepted. In general, we can consider that German is an official language in the territorial sense in the APST, while on the regional level, German-speaking citizens of APST have the right to use the German language in their relations with regional bodies (art 100 ATA). In this sense, the status of the German language can be considered as official with a territorial meaning in APST and with a personal meaning for the regional administrative level. Ladin language cannot be considered an official language according to the statute. If there were a similar official status for the Ladin language, this would not spread over the valleys of Badia and Gardena.


Finally, some words should be said about the reform process foreseen for the statutes of BAC and Trentino-Alto Adige. In the first case, the reform process is a quite complex one. In any case, the new text must be passed by the central parliament and submitted to a referendum of the Basque people. These requirements stress the contract characteristic of the statute that we mentioned above. On the contrary, ATA must be reformed following the process foreseen in the Constitution for constitutional laws (art 103 ATA). This means that the region or the provinces have not a final decision-making power on the shift of the text. In this sense, South Tyrol (and Trentino) autonomy does not enjoy the legal guarantee included in the ABC for the Basque autonomy. However, it must be taken into consideration that in the Basque case there are no constitutional or international guarantees, as we will mention later on.


d)      Self-government and guarantees


As we mentioned before, BAC and APST are two models of territorial autonomy within the framework of a unitary state. In the scope of Western Europe, it can be stated that both entities enjoy today a high level of self-government. If we compare their systems with those of other regions or autonomous entities in the surrounding countries, it is clear that the degree of self-government granted to the BAC and to the APST are among the highest levels of decentralisation across European states, including those of a federal nature. The level of self-government achieved for these two autonomous entities is the most extended one within their respective Spanish and Italian systems. Outside these models but within Western European countries, it can only be compared with the autonomy enjoyed by the Aaland Islands in Finland, Feroe Islands and Greenland in Denmark or the Swiss cantons. The case of Northern Ireland is in this sense a peculiar one. This is because, on the one hand, the level of self-government actually recognised for devolved institutions is clearly lower than the one of the BAC and the APST. But on the other hand, Northern Irish people enjoy the right to self-determination, as recognised in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The populations of the BAC (and that of the APST), on the contrary, do not enjoy this right. What is more, according to the legal system, this right would be against the respective Constitutions.


In view of the level of self-government included in the models hitherto studied, the BAC and APST share the fact that the autonomous bodies have no power in terms of international relations. International issues remain as the sole jurisdiction of the state both in Spanish and Italian Constitutions. In other systems of territorial autonomy, as the one of Feroe Islands and Aaland Islands, the regional bodies play a role in international affairs according to their respective acts of autonomy. In some federal states like Germany or Belgium, regions, lander or communities can play an international role in their representation to European Union institutions.


The high level of self-government of the BAC and the APST is reflected in a long list of legislative and executive powers to be exercised by the community or provincial bodies. In both cases, this degree of autonomy is complemented with an adequate provision of finance means or resources, which can be considered itself as an important guarantee for the autonomous functioning. Economic situation and legal provisions allow, in both cases, a good amount of independence to the autonomous bodies in order to develop their own policies. There is, however, a great difference in the way of providing this financial autonomy. In the case of the APST, resources are provided by the state according to some formula foreseen in the ATA  (art 69-86). Most of the revenues obtained by the state in the province remain within it for the budget of the autonomous bodies. In the case of the Basque Country, however, the autonomous system reflects the traditional tax independence of the historical territories. In this sense, each Basque province or territory has its own Treasury and is in charge of collecting the taxes from the citizens. After the tax collection, the provinces provide the resources for the budget of the Autonomous Community first, and then for that of the state for the power exercised by this inside the BAC. In practice, this system allows in the practice an independent (although co-ordinated) functioning of the Basque Treasury with respect to the state one. In case the economic situation evolves better in the BAC than in Spain, or the autonomous administrations manage the tax incomes better than the central treasury, the BAC obtains a benefit that would be a loss if these factors were evolving in the other way round. In a nutshell, the BAC is competent to create and collect its own taxes, while APST receives its financial means from the central government.


As for the guarantees for self-government, we find some differences between both systems. From the constitutional perspective, Spanish Constitution recognises, under article 2, the right to autonomy of the nationalities that make up the “Spanish nation”; but there is no further provision for granting an autonomy for the Basque Country. The map of autonomous communities is not drawn in the Constitution and, in this sense, there is no specific guarantee for providing autonomy for the Basque country as a whole. This explains also the fact that Navarra constitutes an autonomous community itself. On the contrary, in the Italian Constitution, it is clearly specified which regions would be created and also if they would be regions with special or ordinary statute (art 116 and 131). Another difference in terms of guarantees appears in the international law scope. South Tyrol´s autonomy is granted by the De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement of 1946. To be exact, what is granted is the territorial autonomy of the German-speaking population. This clause was interpreted in the first stage as legitimating a territorial autonomy for the whole region, as it was regulated in the first statute of 1948. We know the problems provoked by this first statute and we can say today that the international treaty grants an effective autonomy in the concrete area of South Tyrol. Otherwise, the international compromise would be void by interpretation. In the Basque case there is no international guarantee for autonomy to be found.


Finally, possible conflicts of powers between autonomous and central institutions are solved in a very similar way in both cases. On the one hand, the constitutional court is the competent body to know about the conflicts between autonomous and central authorities. Autonomous and state laws can be taken out before the constitutional court, and the latter can declare them to be unconstitutional. However, we must remind here that the composition of the constitutional court in the Spanish and Italian systems does not come from a balanced election between state and regions or communities, as is the case in Germany. On the other hand, both states have some possibilities open for controlling the activity of the autonomous powers. These possible measures of control are foreseen in the Constitutions and the respective statutes of autonomy. This element stresses the characteristic of a unitary state, in which the political power is delegated into decentralised entities, which are not considered as constituent parts of the state.





The comparative analysis of the realities of South Tyrol and Basque Country has been extended to 55 different issues, classified into social, political, and institutional aspects. In 34 out of 55 issues, we found similarities between both conflict situations, while in other 21 we discovered differences. In general, we can state that both cases have very much in common. However, in our opinion, two important differences make them today to be quite far one from another. The first one is the clear difference of ethnic or national identities that exists in South Tyrol, maybe due to the fact that there is a kin-state for the national minority concerned. In the Basque country, however, there is no kin-state and the construction of national identities is for some cases alternative, but for some other, complementary. National identification in this sense is made in a very different way in both cases. The second main difference is the perception of the conflict as settled or open. South Tyrol is considered today as a sample of successful solution to national minority problems/conflicts, while the complex system in force in the Basque Country has not been able to gain a clear support of all the sectors concerned and the conflict situation remains alive.




Table 3: Similarities found between BAC and APST


a)      Territory and Society


·        Small percentage of State territory

·        Mountainous landscape

·        Part of North-South axis

·        Border land

·        Division between States of the historical territory

·        Administrative (provincial/regional) division of the historical territory

·        Linguistic plurality

·        Catholic religious tradition

·        Migration flows

·        Higher income than the average of the state

·        Economy based on third sector

·        Good net of communications


b)      Politics and Conflict


·        Contradictory political aspirations

·        Nationalism as a social and political movement

·        Strong nationalist parties with a Christian-Democrat ideology

·        Traditional support from the Catholic Church to national identity

·        Non-native population supporting unionist parties

·        Majority support for nationalism

·        Constant electoral sociology

·        Fascist regimes in the past


c)      Legal Framework


·        Territorial autonomy

·        Some elements of asymmetry

·        Basic rules: constitution + statute

·        Parliamentary system

·        One chamber parliaments

·        Equal representation of provinces in regional/community parliament

·        Internal distribution of political power in two levels

·        No participation in the election of members of constitutional court

·        Minority and state language are official languages in the autonomous territory

·        High level of self-government

·        No powers on international relations

·        Good provision of finance autonomy

·        Conflicts of powers set up by constitutional court

·        State controls over autonomous entities



Table 4: Differences found between BAC and APST


a)      Territory and Society


·        Size of the respective territory: APST 14,000 km2 / BAC 7,000 km2.

·        Sea cost in the Basque Country / interior land in Tyrol

·        Controversial delimitation of the territory in the Basque Country

·        Population in BAC five times bigger than in APST

·        Different linguistic communities in South Tyrol / mixed population in BAC

·        Basque as a minority language in BAC / German as a majority language in APST


b)      Politics and Conflict


·        Basque separatist nationalism / Tyrolean irredentist nationalism

·        Basque as a internal conflict / Tyrolean international conflict

·        Austria as a kin-state for South Tyrol / no kin-state for Basque Country

·        Use of violence and human rights violations in the Basque Country

·        Unsolved conflict in the BAC / settled conflict in APST

·        High/low sensitiveness of the state population


c)      Legal Framework


·        Election of ministers: by the president in BAC / by the parliament in APST.

·        In APST, compulsory representation of linguistic groups in the main bodies

·        In APST, participation in the election of the head of state

·        In APST, participation of president in the meeting of the Council of ministers

·        4 years of residence to achieve political rights in APST / none in BAC

·        Reform of the statute: requirement of referendum in the BAC.

·        Tax law: autonomous power in the BAC

·        Constitutional guarantee for the Tyrolean autonomy

·        International guarantee for the Tyrolean autonomy





Table 5: Similarities and differences found between BAC and APST


                                                                       Elements          Similarities        Differences


·        Territory and Society                                 18                               12                    6

·        Politics and Conflict                                   14                                 8                    6

·        Legal Framework                                      23                               14                    9


·        TOTAL                                                    55                               34                    21                                                                       




From the previous comparative analysis, the reader can get a broad picture of the relation between the national identity conflict in the Basque Country and the failure of the territorial autonomy arrangement in force. The existence of an ongoing conflict shows that the system has not been able to solve in a peaceful and generally accepted way the problem. The conflict does not arise so much in a violent way (in spite of the dramatic consequences of the use of violence), as it does politically between supporters and opponents to the right to self-determination. This confrontation between political families or blocks, reflecting different national identities, is also getting bigger, at least in view of the political practice during the last period.


The use of violence by an armed group like ETA, with little but significant support, does not help at all in the search for a solution to the political problem. At the same time, the response of the state in order to combat the violence is sometimes done out of the rule of law, adding in this way some fuel to the fire. Finally, violence is too often used as an excuse to deny the existence of a political problem in the Basque Country, and to identify terrorism with any kind of nationalism.


Therefore, given the current political situation on the Basque Country, it is very difficult to give a vision of future, since all possible scenarios show important problems to be considered as stable. In this respect, we can foresee three possible future evolutions of the status of this area: 1) The maintenance of actual status quo; 2) The creation of a higher level of self-government for the BAC inside the Spanish State; 3) Secession from Spain and the creation of a new Basque state.


The first one is the proposal of the two main centralist parties (PP and PSOE)[15]. But keeping the actual status quo means presently to preserve the instability of the region. Majority of people in the BAC is voting in favour of political parties defending the right to self-determination, which is not recognised in the legal framework. Political instability and confrontation affect institutional relations between central and autonomous governments, creating more and more practical problems in social and economic aspects. The process of structuring the system of autonomous communities all over Spain, with balanced powers, reduces the symbolic value of the Basque autonomy. Besides that, armed struggle proves to be very difficult to erase by the sole police means.


A solution based on the creation of a new framework of stronger self-government within the Spanish state, would be the proposal of IU/EB and a significant sector of PNV. However, there are many problems when it comes to implement this solution. The question of the right to self-determination would remain in any case as the main conflict to achieve such a solution. Besides that, there is not very much space to create new powers for the autonomous institutions without taking them from the basic core powers of the state. According to a broad reading of the Statute in force, BAC has powers in almost all the aspects apart from Defence, International Relations, Borders control, Citizenship, Passports and Criminal Law. It would be very difficult to draw up a new system without creating de facto an independent state. At the same time, this solution would have to face the risk of not getting the support from both sides of the political confrontation. In addition, for Spain, it would not be acceptable to create such a different treatment for one region, without accommodating the others in the same way. The domino effect would play a role, at least in a rhetoric sense.


The third possibility for the future is independence, with the creation of a new Basque state. This is the solution preferred by Batasuna, EA, and some sectors of PNV, always through the democratic exercise of a right to self-determination. The main problems for this solution, apart from the lack of massive support at this particular moment, would be the territorial question. In drafting the border of the new state, many Basques would be left out if Navarra were not part of the new state. In the other way round, many non-Basque people would be included in the new state if Navarra were incorporated. A similar problem could arise for the province of Alava, whose rate of Basque national identity is clearly lower than the one of Biscay and Gipuzkoa. Citizenship of the new state should be inclusive, in any case, and possibilities for keeping double nationality (like in Northern Ireland) would be strongly recommended. However, presently, Spanish (and French) state can never accept this possibility without fearing a strong effect on the national feeling of its population. The position of Spain (and France) would be decisive for the new state to be recognised in the international society and to keep itself inside the European Union.


In any case, the territorial autonomy established through the statute of 1979 is nowadays in crisis. There is no defined model for the future of the Basque Country and all possible solutions appear equally unsatisfactory for a significant sector of the population. The current model has helped to consolidate an autonomous system that worked out reasonably well for around 15 years. However, at all moments, an important political sector of the Basque Country has been excluded from this consensus. This exclusion of a political share of 15-20% has created also the political condition for the maintenance of a violent group alive. Today, disagreements in the interpretation of the statute and in the political aspirations of Spanish and Basque parties are taking the situation to a permanent confrontation. Unless there is a kind of consensus on the idea of self-determination to create a new system with the agreement of all the main parties, it will remain difficult to achieve a lasting solution to the national identity conflict in the Basque Country.







Table 6: Political forces in the Southern Basque Country


A)    Political Forces in favour of the right to self-determination


·        EAJ-PNV: EUSKO ALDERDI JELTZALEA-PARTIDO NACIONALISTA VASCO ("Basque Nationalist Party"). Founded by Sabino Arana in Bilbao in 1895. During its first period it was a strongly catholic and centre-right wing party. After the Second World War it took part in the foundation of the European Christian Democracy. However, after 1999 the MEP of the PNV sits in the Green Group of the European Parliament with other parties of the European Free Alliance. Nowadays it can be considered as a centre wing party. It defends an "own political framework" for the Basque Country inside the European Union. Within the party there are some pro-independence sectors and very moderate nationalists. It has been the first political force in the BAC since the first regional elections in 1980, getting nowadays around 28-34% of the votes. In Navarra it gets around 1% of the votes. Their best scores are in the territory of Biscay, especially in the rural Basque-speaking areas. Around 80% of the municipalities of the BAC are chaired by a PNV mayor/major (?), including the main city of Bilbao.


·        BATASUNA - BATASUNA ("Unity") (former “Herri Batasuna” (popular unity) and “Euskal Herritarrok” (Basque citizens)). It was founded in 1979 as an extreme-left wing coalition of parties, although since then they have changed in different occasions the name and internal composition. It has no clear international links. They claim independence for the Basque Country as a whole. They do not condemn the violence of the armed group ETA., of which they are considered a political branch. They get around 10-15% of the votes in BAC and 8-12% in Navarra. Best results for BAT take place in the Basque speaking areas of Gipuzkoa and Navarra. They chair some municipalities in these territories.


·        EA - EUSKO ALKARTASUNA ("Basque Solidarity"). It is a centre-left wing party founded in 1986, mainly as a split of the PNV. EA is in favour of independence for the Basque Country. EA is a member of the European Free Alliance. It normally gets around 7-10% of the votes in BAC and 4-5% in Navarra. They get their best scores in the territory of Gipuzkoa, where they have most of the majors of the Party. For the last polls of May 2001, EA and PNV joined each other (joined their forces) in an electoral coalition.


·        EB-IU -  EZKER BATUA-IZQUIERDA UNIDA ("United left"). It is a left wing coalition of parties and political families. Some of them consider themselves as Basque nationalists, while some others are Spanish parties as the Spanish Communist Party. They support both the Spanish Constitution and the right to self-determination of the Basque people. They refuse independence proposing a federal system for the Spanish State. They get around 5-8% of the votes in the BAC and in Navarra, mainly in urban areas.


B)    Political forces against any right to self-determination of the Basque People.


·        PP – PARTIDO POPULAR (“Popular Party”). It is a centre-right wing party, nowadays member of the European Popular Party. Nowadays it gets around 18-24% of the votes in the BAC, almost exclusively in the urban Spanish-speaking environments. They have only a few majors in the Southern part of Alava and in one of Vitoria-Gasteiz. In Navarra, there is in fact a brother party called Unión del Pueblo Navarro (“Union of the Navarrese People”), which is the main party in this territory. It gets around 40-45% of the votes and chairs most of the municipalities in Navarra, including the capital Pamplona/Iruñea.


·         PSOE - PARTIDO SOCIALISTA OBRERO ESPANOL ("Spanish Worker's Socialist Party"). It is a centre-left wing party, founded in the 19th century and member of the European Socialist Party. It gets around 18-20% of the votes in BAC and 25-30% in Navarra. Most of their votes come from the Spanish speaking urban areas in which the immigrants from Spanish regions actually live. Some municipalities in the metropolitan area of Bilbao as well as other industrial cities in Gipuzkoa have socialist majors.





Table 7: Dates of celebration of elections for the Basque Parliament


1st       1980    March

2nd      1984    February

3rd       1986    November[16]

4th       1990    October

5th       1994    October

6th       1998    October

7th       2001    May[17] 


The Parliamentary period lasts for a maximum of four years


Table 8: Evolution in the composition of the Basque Parliament (seats)


                                   1980    1984    1986    1990    1994    1998    2001


EAJ-PNV                   25        32        17        22        22        21        33

EA                              -          -          13        9          8          6          *[18]

BAT[19]                         11        11        13        13        11        14        7

EE[20]                            6          6          9          6          -          -          -

IU-EB                         1          0          0          0          6          2          3

PSOE                          9          19        19        16        12        14        13

PP[21]                            8          7          4          9          16        18        19


TOTAL seats              60        75        75        75        75        75        75




Table 9: Evolution in the composition of the Basque Parliament (seats)


                                   1980    1984    1986    1990    1994    1998    2001


Forces A                     43        49        52        50        47        43        43

Forces B                     17        26        23        25        28        32        32


TOTAL seats              60        75        75        75        75        75        75





Table 10: Evolution of the composition of the Basque Government


Date                            Government parties                  President


1980    March             PNV                                       Mr. Garaikoetxea

1984    February          PNV                                       Mr. Garaikoetxea

1984    December        PNV                                       Mr. Ardanza

1986    December        PNV+PSOE (+CDS)              Mr. Ardanza

1990    December        PNV+EA+EE                         Mr. Ardanza

1991    September       PNV+PSOE+EE                    Mr. Ardanza

1994    November       PNV+PSOE+EA                    Mr. Ardanza

1998    July                  PNV+EA                                Mr. Ardanza

1998    November       PNV+EA                                Mr. Ibarretxe

1999    March             PNV+EA (+BAT)                   Mr. Ibarretxe

2000    January            PNV+EA                                Mr. Ibarretxe

2001    July                 PNV+EA+IU                          Mr. Ibarretxe


In brackets: support to the government from the legislative

The president (Lehendakari) has always been a member of PNV.









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[1] In Basque language, Euskal Herria (EH); in Spanish, País Vasco; In French, Pays Basque.

[2] This is the Southern Basque Country or Hegoalde, also referred to in Spanish or French as “País vascoespañol”.

[3] This is the Northern Basque Country or Iparralde, also referred to in Spanish or French as “País vascofrancés”.

[4] In Basque, Euskera or Euskara; In Spanish, vasco o vascuence, although the term euskera is also normally used in the Spanish language.

    [5] "Upper Navarra" refers to the actual Community of Navarra while "Lower Navarra" is the ancient part of the Kingdom of Navarra in the Northern part of the Pyrenees, conquered by  King of Aragon and Castilla in 1512 but recuperated by the Navarrese royal family in 1530. Nowadays it is one of the three small provinces which make up the Norhtern Basque Country: Labourd/Lapurdi, Basse Navarra/Lower Navarra/Nafarroa Behera and Soule/Zuberoa. We will refer forward to historical Upper Navarra as Navarra.

    [6] Subject/Object/Verb instead of the Subject/Verb/Object (SVO) model characteristics of most European languages.

    [7] These are Biscaian, Guipuscoan, Northern Upper-Navarrese, Southern Upper.-Navarrese, Labortan, Western Lower-Navarrese, Eastern Lower-Navarrese and Souletin. The most spoken dialect is Biscaian.

[8] EAJ-PNV stands for  Eusko Alderdi Jeltzalea-Partido Nacionalista Vasco. The name is different in Basque and Spanish versions, meaning respectively “Basque Party of God and Old Laws” and “Basque Nationalist Party”.

[9] ETA is the acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, literally meaning “Basque fatherland and Freedom”.

[10] EAJ-PNV, EA, HB, EH, EE, IU-EB.


[12] This is not a direct consequence of the Spanish constitution but of political agreements made a posteriori. In any case, the political decentralisation in Spain does not affect the 100% of the territory due to the peculiar system in force for the “autonomous cities” (not autonomous communities) of Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Africa.

[13] This word has no clear translation into English. In terms of Public Law it refers to the special regime enjoyed till the 19th century by the provinces or territories of Biscay, Alava, Gipuzkoa and Navarra.

[14] This is, for instance, the legal basis of the political power of the Basque provinces (or Community) in Tax Law and tax management, roads and traffic and in police forces. . Other autonomous communities cannot have these competences.

[15] We include a list of the Basque political parties in table 6.

[16] The president dissolved the Parliament in 1986 due to the split of the PNV that gave birth to a new party, EA.

[17] The Parliament was dissolved by the president in 2001 due to the lack of majority support for the government (PNV+EA) after the conclusion of the agreement with EH (BAT) once the cease-fire of ETA was broken.

[18] In the polls of 2001, PNV and EA formed an electoral coalition.

[19] Former HB (Herri Batasuna) and EH (Euskal Herritarrok). Until 1998, the seats gained by BAT in the Basque Parliament were not occupied. They participated in the Parliament after the declaration of the cease-fire by ETA in September 1998 and kept on participating after the break of the cease-fire in January 2000.

[20] Former Euskadiko Ezkerra (“Basque Left”), left-wing nationalist party, dissolved in 1994. Some of the leaders moved into the PSOE.

[21] Seats gained by some other parties from the Spanish centre-right (UCD, AP, CDS and UA) are included in this line.