Richard North, 13/01/2005  

It looks like regionalisation might be going a bit too far in Spain as talks are convened in Madrid today aimed at averting a constitutional crisis, amid fears that a plan by Basques to achieve greater autonomy could precipitate the break-up of Spain.

This, according to a report in The Times today, arises from a proposal by Juan José Ibarretxe, the Basque leader, to give his region a "status of free association" with Spain. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, is attempting to head this off.

Interestingly, the proposal, which was unexpectedly endorsed by the Basque parliament, denies Spanish national sovereignty and fixes any future relationship upon two partners. It calls for full judicial powers, with a Basque supreme court of appeal outside the Spanish system, and seeks an independent voice in the EU council of ministers.

The so-called Plan Ibarretxe has rocked Señor Zapatero’s minority Socialist Government, which depends on the support of regional MPs in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid. It has been repudiated by Señor Zapatero and the Opposition Popular Party, and is certain to be rejected when it is presented to parliament tomorrow.

But Ibarretxe has said that he will ignore the national parliament and put the plan to a referendum in the Basque Country, probably in May. If that gets a resounding "Yes", we could be seeing the Basques declaring UDI, leading to partition – Spain in twain, so to speak.

Technically, the ceded region would then drop out of the EU altogether and have to negotiate entry on its own account, for which there is absolutely no precedent. The EU would be in a position of having to decide whether to recognise a new "state", to the disadvantage of one of its own members.

Arguably, the Eurocrats should be in favour of this move, as their core religion rests on the break-up of the nation state. Perhaps, also, we will also see UN missions in place – Land Cruisers and all - to supervise the elections. But then, they could always send for Neil Herron (and he already has his own Land Cruiser).

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