[Paleopsych] NYT: Basque Talk of Secession Creates Crisis for Madrid

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Basque Talk of Secession Creates Crisis for Madrid
New York Times, 5.1.3

MADRID, Jan. 2 - The Basque region's declaration last week
that it has the right to secede from Spain has pushed Prime
Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero toward the first
crisis of his tenure, political analysts say.

Throughout his nearly nine months in office, Mr. Zapatero
has largely promoted policies that are solidly supported by
the Spanish public, helping him to avoid major setbacks or
controversies. But editorial writers and politicians say
his affinity for following the polls has kept him from
taking on tough issues, chief among them the growing signs
in recent months that the Basque region was moving toward
an overt challenge to the central government's authority.

"Now it's time for him to respond," said an editorial in
the Madrid daily El Mundo. "The coherence and decisiveness
of his answer will determine not only his own political
future, but also the survival of the current federal model
endorsed by the Spanish people."

The political principles invoked by Mr. Zapatero in his
previous policy decisions offer little guidance on how he
will handle this challenge, analysts say.

Since taking office in April, Mr. Zapatero has emphasized
that the central policy of his government is to follow the
will of the people. But now he finds himself staring at a
possible constitutional standoff with a man making the very
same claim.

Juan José Ibarretxe, the president of the self-proclaimed
Basque Country and the driving force behind last week's
declaration, says he is simply being a good democrat by
proposing that the future of the region he governs should
be decided by its people and not by Madrid. As the leader
of a democratic government, he says, he must follow the
principle of majority rule.

Mr. Zapatero has used the same argument to fend off
criticism of many of his policies, from withdrawing Spanish
troops from Iraq to sanctioning gay marriage.

The looming conflict between the men in many ways reflects
an age-old question posed by democracy: What are the rights
and powers of the minority in a system based on majority

The United States fought a civil war in part to resolve the
question, after Southern states said that since they had
freely joined the union, they were free to leave it.

The situation in Spain is not nearly as dire, but the
question is similar: Can the Basque region unilaterally
alter its relationship with Madrid, even secede, if a
majority of its people want to?

Mr. Zapatero says that the answer is clearly no, contending
that the Spanish Constitution forbids it. But Mr. Ibarretxe
says that at the end of the day the central government's
opinion is irrelevant. If neither budges, Spain could be
thrown into a genuine constitutional crisis, the analysts

Mr. Ibarretxe has tried to ease tensions by pointing out
that he is not proposing outright independence from Spain.
But many political analysts wonder why the Basque region
would risk angering Madrid by stating that it has the right
to secede if it does not intend to do so.

Some experts say Basque leaders are using the talk of
secession only as a threat to persuade the central
government to give them greater autonomy.

In fact, many politicians, even some of Mr. Ibarretxe's
allies, say outright independence makes little sense with
Spain's growing integration into the European Union. "In a
Europe where states are disappearing," said Josu Iñaki
Erkoreka, a representative in Parliament of the Basque
Nationalist Party, "it doesn't make sense to propose a
political model that is based on an old reality."

Even if independence is not the goal, the Basque
declaration last week demands immediate attention from Mr.
Zapatero, political analysts here say.

"This is without a doubt the greatest challenge presented
to the Spanish state and the democratic parties since the
transition" to democracy after the death of Franco in 1975,
the editorial in El Mundo said.


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