AS Spain and Catalonia head towards a constitutional collision over the region’s claim to independence, politicians on both sides of the crisis are pointing to a way out: north, to Basque Country.
A once-violent campaign for independence has petered out in the verdant mountains of Basque Country
Among the verdant mountains of Basque Country, which borders France, a once-violent campaign for independence has petered out, with generous fiscal autonomy from Madrid helping to keep popular agitation for independence in check.
“We don’t have that economic resentment,” Aitor Esteban, the organiser for the Basque National Party in Spain’s parliament, said in an interview at party headquarters in Bilbao.
“People don’t feel that need to act upon a grievance about money; that makes a big difference.”
The Catalan government is not calling for a Basque-style deal, insisting instead on independence after declaring overwhelming support for secession in an Oct. 1 referendum banned by Madrid.
But the most moderate lawmakers in the region’s ruling coalition privately say they could drop independence claims if they were given the tax autonomy that Basque Country enjoys.
In Madrid, some socialists have suggested it could serve as a model for a compromise that would defuse Spain’s biggest political crisis since a failed coup in 1981, although the cost to the central government would be significant.
Aitor Esteban said ‘We don’t have that economic resentment’
People don’t feel that need to act upon a grievance about money; that makes a big difference
Aitor Esteban, organiser for the Basque National Party
Basque staged modest protests over Madrid’s violent crackdown on Catalonia’s referendum, but the crisis has failed to rekindle secessionist fervour on the streets of Bilbao, the Basque capital nestled on the banks of the Nervion.
Catalan flags hang from balconies alongside the Basque flag in a sign of solidarity, but Bilbao is prosperous and peaceful. Where once unionist politicians needed bodyguards and car bombings were a constant fear, tourists now crowd the taverns of the old town and the world-famous Guggenheim museum.
Basque staged modest protests over Madrid’s violent crackdown on Catalonia’s referendum
Thousands protest in Catalonia general strike
People gather at Spanish police headquarters to stage a demonstration, supporting Catalonian independence and reacting against Spanish police’s intervention, in Barcelona.
Just 17 per cent of Basques want independence and less than half would like to hold a referendum on the issue, according to a poll carried out by the university of Deusto.
Basque militant group ETA, which killed more than 850 people in a decades-long campaign to carve out a separate state, effectively ended its armed resistance this year when it surrendered its weapons.
The Catalan government is not calling for a Basque-style deal, insisting instead on independence
The region now has one of the highest economic outputs per capita and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Spain.
“The independence debate is on standby in Basque Country because of great fatigue after years of violence and uncertainty after the economic crisis,” said Xabier Barandiaran, professor of sociology at Deusto University.