Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country
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The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country is the legal document organizing the political system of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country' (Basque: Euskadiko Autonomi Erkidegoa) which includes the historical territories of Alava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa. It forms the region into one of the autonomous communities envisioned in the Spanish Constitution of 1978. It is also known as the Statute of Gernika (Spanish: Estatuto de Guernica), after the city of Gernika where its final form was approved on 29 December 1978. It was ratified by referendum on 25 October 1979, despite the abstention of more than 40% of the electorate. The statute was accepted by the lower house of the Spanish Parliament on November 29 and the Spanish Senate on December 12.
The statute was meant to encompass all the historical provinces inhabited by the Basque people in Spain, who had proved a strong will for acknowledgement of a separate identity and status, even in non Basque nationalist circles. A draft statute for the Spanish Basque Country was then drawn up to provide for that urge with a view to comprising all the historically Basque territories. However, the blueprint came up against much opposition in Navarre (Unión del Pueblo Navarro party founded) and rightist and nationalist circles of the still Francoist central administration. At the beginning of the 1980s the Spanish Socialist party and their regional branch too swerved to a Navarre-only stance, paving the way to a separate autonomous community.
The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country retained though in its wording the spirit of the original blueprint, namely allowing the necessary means for the development in liberty of the Basque people, while now limited only to the western Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay provinces. The possibility of Navarre joining in is anyway emphasized and provisioned for, insomuch as they are identified as Basque people, should that be their will.
It established a system of parliamentary government, in which the president (chief of government) or lehendakari is elected by the Basque Autonomous Parliament among its members. Election of the Parliament is by universal suffrage and parliament consists of 75 deputies, 25 from each of the three Historic Territories of the community. The parliament is vested with powers over a broad variety of areas, including agriculture, industry; from culture, arts and libraries, to tax collection, policing, and transportation. Basque (as a right) and Spanish (as a right and duty) are official languages.
The equal representation of the provinces regardless of actual population was a wink to Alava and Navarre, the least populated and least prone to Basque nationalism of the provinces. However the Navarrese society seems content with its current Amejoramiento del Fuero'
The Basque provinces maintained a great degree of self-government under their charters (they were called the exempted provinces, that is without royal taxes, without military conscription for the royal army except in defense case,...).
After the Second Carlist War, the Fueros were abolished and substituted by the Ley Paccionada in Navarre (1841) and a diminished foral regime in the three western provinces (1876). After this abolition of the Charters, former laws and customs were largely absorbed into Spanish centralist rule with little regard for regional idiosyncrasies. As a result, attempts were made by Carlists, Basque nationalists and sometimes leftist forces in the Basque region to restore some kind of self-empowerment ("autonomy") that eventually would led to draft at the onset of the Second Spanish Republic a statute for the four Basque provinces, the Statute of Estella. However, it didn't achieve enough support following heated controversy over the validity of the votes and allegations of strong pressures on local representatives to tip the result against the unitarian option (Assembly of Pamplona, 1932).
Another proposal was approved by the Republic already in the Spanish Civil War, but only including the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Álava. Its effectivity was limited to the Republic-controlled areas of Biscay and a fringe of Gipuzkoa.
After the surrendering of the Basque Army in 1937, the statute was abolished. However, Francisco Franco allowed the continuation of a limited self-government for Alava and Navarre, thanking their support for his uprising.
It is on the republican statute and the Alavese institutions that the current Statute of Gernika takes its legitimacy.
- Iban Bilbao, The Basque Parliament and Government, Basque Studies Program Newsletter, Issue 27, 1983.
- Euskadi Net, The Statute of Autonomy, the basic institutional instrument regulating the Basque Country.