The Juntas Generales (Batzar Nagusiak in Basque) are representative assemblies in the Southern Basque Country that go back to the 14th century. The three main Juntas Generals in the Basque Country were - and are - the Juntas Generales of Biscay, the Juntas Generales of Gipuzkoa and the Juntas Generales of Álava. The equivalent in Navarre was the Cortes—or The Three States, roughly House of the Commons—to become the present-day Parliament of Navarre.
They were part of an early form of democratic institutions. At the local level, the heads of households (male or female) would meet on Sundays after church at the church door in a meeting called elizate (or anteiglesia in Spanish) to debate and decide on local issues. An elizate in turn would elect someone to represent the local community at the juntas, which existed from the district level right up to the provincial Juntas Generales.
Little is known about the historical background of these local and regional institutions prior to the 14th century. Broadly speaking, two historical periods can be distinguished:
- The period from the 14th century to 1876 when the Juntas Generales were abolished
- The period from 1979 to the present when the Juntas Generales were reinstated.
After the First Carlist War, the fueros were much weakened and eventually fully abolished after the Second Carlist War in 1876. Although the Spanish Government of the time established the conciertos económicos involving low taxes, protective tariffs and self-collection of taxes not dissimilar to rights formerly enshrined in the fueros, the Juntas Generales ceased to exist as institutions.
Unlike the other Basque provinces, Navarre had evolved into the Kingdom of Navarre and had developed to a large extent feudal traditions and institutions in line with other European kingdoms of the time. As a result, it was largely excluded from the development of such early democratic institutions. However, the royal authority was but one layer of the governmental institutions, and the latter—diputacion or government council, "The Three States" (Cortes)—were based on the Navarrese charters stemming from similar values, traditions and institutions to the other Basque regions.
It did have a charter however, the 1841 Ley Paccionada de Fueros which Navarre managed to protect when the fueros of Biscay, Gipuzkoa and Álava were abolished in 1879.
The Juntas Generales of Biscay
Both historically and currently, the Juntas Generales of Biscay are based in Gernika-Lumo, at the famous Casa de Juntas. Prior to the abolition of the foral laws and the Juntas Generales of Biscay, the Basque señoríos met under the Oak of Gernika to swear they would respect the ancient laws of Biscay.
Of all historical Juntas Generales, this is perhaps the most widely known and important one as it was in Gernika the Spanish monarchs were required to swear to uphold the Basque freedoms since the incorporation of Biscay and Gipuzkoa into the Kingdom of Castile from 1200 onwards.
The modern era
The modern Juntas Generales of Biscay were re-instated in 1979 and form a unicameral assembly. Its 51 (90 in 1979 only) members, the batzarkideak (in Basque) or apoderados (in Spanish), are elected by the people of Biscay every four years alongside the municipal elections.
Their duties are to:
- form the Provincial Government of Biscay (the Diputación Foral de Vizcaya (Spanish)/Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia (Basque)
- to elect a president
- to develop the foral laws of Biscay
- to administer the province's budget
The party political composition since 1979 has been as follows:
1Since the 1995 elections the EE has been part of the PSE (PSOE).
|III. (1987–1991)||Antxon Aurre Elorrieta||EAJ-PNV|
|IV. (1991–1995)||Antxon Aurre Elorrieta||EAJ-PNV|
|V. (1995–1999)||Aitor Esteban Bravo||EAJ-PNV|
|VI. (1999–2003)||Aitor Esteban Bravo||EAJ-PNV|
|VII. (2003–2007)||Ana Madariaga Ugarte||EAJ-PNV|
|VIII. (2007–2011)||Ana Madariaga Ugarte||EAJ-PNV|
French Basque Country
While they were overall less widely known due to the northern districts—Labourd, Lower Navarre, Soule—falling behind in terms of economic development, they also had assemblies that were largely independent of those of the French state and held charters - the fors, the northern equivalent of the fueros. Their powers and sovereignty were gradually curtailed by the French Crown, notably in 1620 and 1659-1660 following the Treaty of the Pyrenees, but remained in place and relevant (e.g. the Biltzar of Labourd) about decisions affecting regional life until the Napoleonic period (1790).
- Trask, L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2
- Torrealdi, JM El Libro Negro del Euskera Ttarttalo: 1998 ISBN 84-8091-395-9