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'The Committee of the Regions is a joke'

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Interview with Iñaki Anasagasti, spokesperson for the Basque Nationalist Party at the Spanish Chamber of Deputies. Anasagasti tells café babel about his call for a Europe defined by people and regions rather than limited to traditional nation states.

In September 2002 the Basque Nationalist Party, (el Partido Nacionalista Vasco, PNV), led by Juan José Ibarretxe, head of the autonomous Basque government, revealed its dual plan calling for free association status with Spain and an associated nation status within Europe. Many other regions in Europe also share this aspiration for a dual status. café babel met up with Iñaki Anasagasti, the PNV's spokesperson, to find out about his views on Euroregions and to question him on his nationalist allegiance within a united Europe.

What kind of Europe does the Basque Country want?

We see Europe as a mosaic of cultures, of peoples. In a peoples' Europe, its citizens can claim the power that the nation state is not able to give them because it is in crisis.

According to the PNV, what is the role of the Basque Country in Europe? Region or independent state?

Our initial concern is the creation of an autonomous region. But we really don't like the Committee of the Regions, we think it's a joke. The European nation state, which has arisen out of and developed as a result of its various wars, is in crisis, it can no longer solve the immediate problems of its citizens. For this reason, we think that bringing power to the citizens is a democratic process. This realisation will gain momentum, not just here, but in the whole of Europe. The traditional nation state resists relinquishing any of its power, either upwards or downwards. The independence movement is the logical consequence of the failure to surrender some of this power. But in principle we don't aspire towards a Europe made up of lots of small States, but rather a Europe defined by its peoples and its regions.

The controversial Ibarretxe Plan is currently being processed. It modifies the statutes of the Basque Country, a change that clashes with certain aspects of the Spanish Constitution. Aren?t you afraid that it might also prove incompatible with Europe and its future plans for a constitution?

Romano Prodi has always said the Basque question is a Spanish domestic issue. Though it's also a French one. Many Basques feel as though they're part of a Bayona-San Sebastián axis, something that could be defined as a Euroregion, and that is an extremely interesting process of cooperation and development. We believe that the EU won?t go against us. There have already been independence movements on the fringes of the EU, like those in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Baltic states...

But it is possible that Spain and France are pushing for the European Constitution to preserve the member states as they are?

Yes. We are aware of that, and we know that as far as our demands are concerned the winds are not favourable. But this is our long-term aim. We know that it will develop into a widespread and unstoppable tendency.

Going back to those famous "Euroregions", should they be a geo-cultural construct or should they take into account other factors over and above the cultural, such as for instance economic interests?

They must be the sum of those two factors. In matters such as infrastructure they allow for wider demands to be made. We can for instance work together in an "Atlantic axis" to establish a solid rail network for the Cantabrian Coast of Spain, a region that has always been lacking in this area. This Euroregion can be combined with a more cultural one, such as "Euskal Herria", that includes parts of Spain and France. There are so many formulas; we can't limit ourselves to the kind of closed thinking embodied in the nation state.

The PNV wants an independent Basque nation, similar to that of Spain or France, where the right to vote would be limited to those of Basque nationality. Doesn't this go against the general tendency of creating a citizens' Europe with universal rights?

We understand that this is one of the most controversial points of the Ibarretxe Plan. We want a Basque nation, but we know that many people are against it and that it's not going to be easy. We are willing to debate the issues because we're fully aware of their complexity.

So what you're demanding then is nationhood... But aren't we moving towards a Europe of citizenship, without nations?

We're demanding nationhood because others are denying us this right. There exists a State nationalism that closes itself off from recognising other realities. This is happening not just in Spain, but in France with the Corsicans, and in the United Kingdom, where the Scottish question of greater independence has yet to be fully answered...

Doesn't nationalism stem from the economic selfishness of highly-industrialised regions?

The Basque Country has always been very poor. Now, in post-industrial times, we are a country driven by the service sector, because industry isn't what is used to be. As for your question, we want to be independent and we're ready to pay the price, because solidarity is important to us. But we'll pay the price to Europe, not the Spanish State. We think this is the shape of things to come. Eventually Spain will become an EU autonomy and will pay its quota to Brussels.

Translated from “El Comité de las Regiones nos parece un absurdo”