The international community lacks updated information on the latest stage of the Basque conflict—the longest enduring violent conflict in Western Europe—and the emerging opportunity for a peace process among the key parties to it. This report examines recent promising developments, outlines remaining obstacles, and offers recommendations to ensure that the present opportunities for peace in the Basque Country are not lost.

Summary

  • The recent announcement of a permanent cease-fire by the Basque Separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) signals the most significant window of opportunity for the initiation of an all-party peace process between the Spanish government and the Basque community since 1998, when Prime Minister José María Aznar authorized a dialogue between Spanish officials and ETA in Switzerland.
  • The first permanent cease-fire in ETA’s bloody history arose from a complex combination of circumstances, including massive popular campaigns against violence, the political impact of a proposal by moderate Basque nationalists for a new Statute of Autonomy, and the election of a new Spanish administration disposed to new approaches toward the Basque issue.
  • Two competing visions are currently clashing within the Basque community: there are those who want Spain to remain the only sovereign entity within the Basque territories and those who want a new sovereignty status to be agreed upon between Spanish and Basque institutions. At present, therefore, discussions within the Basque community are focused on the search for instruments of shared sovereignty that are adapted to a complex and plural social reality.
  • The Spanish and Basque governments and key political parties are currently designing the methodology, agenda, and timeline for a multiparty dialogue process. Taking into account the current level of self-governance in the Basque territories and the demands of each party, the key issues to be negotiated lie in the areas of human rights, sovereignty, and territorial relations.
  • To take full advantage of this unique opportunity for peace, it will be very important to achieve a broad consensus on the rules of the game before any public phase begins and to agree on decision-making mechanisms in order to preclude procedural disagreements in the negotiations. Further, a dialogue process like this requires the participation of all political traditions. This means that, as soon as possible, the Spanish government should establish legal formulas for the participation of the currently banned political representatives of the pro-independence Basque movement.
  • Basque and Spanish civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and community leaders have played a major role in not only creating a conducive atmosphere for a breakthrough but also in making significant contributions to the principles, content, and methodology of the proposed process and challenging the positions of the political representatives. Although the political elite will lead the process once all-party talks are set in motion, civil society organizations from both sides will remain important to the process, particularly in explaining the complexities of a comprehensive agreement to their respective publics.

Recommendations

Facing this great window of opportunity for peace--and taking into account the issues described above--the following recommendations are presented for institutions, political parties, and international organizations involved or willing to support a peace process.

Encourage the Participation of Civil Society

To date, Basque and Spanish civil society organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and community leaders have played a major role in not only creating a conducive atmo- sphere for a breakthrough but also in making significant contributions to the principles, content, and methodology of the proposed process and challenging the positions of the political representatives. Although the political elite will lead the process once all-party talks are set in motion, civil society organizations from both sides will remain important to the process, particularly in explaining the complexities of a comprehensive agreement to their respective publics. Civil society organizations will likely be vital in generating broad support for the process and giving the public a sense of ownership in it. Specifi- cally, civil society organizations could play a positive role by collecting proposals and opinions from individuals and influential entities through public advisory forums. In turn, an independent representative or commission could present these proposals and opinions to the negotiating parties.

Acknowledge and Involve the Victims

Positive formulas should be developed that allow for the participation of the victims and their relatives in the process. The public acknowledgment of their suffering would both enrich the discussions and honor the victims' memories. Granting nonpartisan support for concrete initiatives, such as a project for collecting testimonies and honoring the victims' suffering, would contribute significantly to the healing process and would help both communities move forward. Even though the most dramatic effects of the violence and the names of those who suffered its consequences are public, very little effort has been made to promote public acknowledgment of each individual case or to convey the current situations of the affected families. Each story should be recorded and disseminated in a multimedia format to reach as wide an audience as possible. Such a massive storytelling exercise will undoubtedly provide much needed and deserved psychological support to those who have suffered losses.

Develop Trust-Building Mechanisms

Once the permanent cease-fire is verified the situation of ETA prisoners must be addressed. Current Spanish treatment of ETA prisoners not only violates the fundamental rights of the prisoners but also impedes an internal dialogue within ETA over whether to commit to a completely unarmed political strategy. Further, judging from similar experiences in Northern Ireland and South Africa, ETA prisoners themselves could play a positive role in a peace process if given the opportunity.

Guarantee the Inclusion of All Political Traditions

A dialogue process like this requires the participation of all political traditions. This means that, as soon as possible, the Spanish government should establish legal formulas for the participation of the currently banned and imprisoned political representatives of the pro- independence movement. However, should any political party decide not to participate in the process, their will should be respected and everything possible should be done to facilitate their inclusion at a later date, if and when they are ready to participate.

Specify the Procedures

Normally, the "talks-about-talks" discussion phase takes a great deal of time and nego- tiation because the methodology and agenda of a process will substantially influence its final outcome. It will be very important, therefore, to achieve a broad consensus on the rules of the game before any public phase begins and to agree on decision-making mechanisms in order to preclude procedural disagreements in the negotiations.

Create an International Network to Assist the Process

Until those international bodies directly affected by the conflict--such as the relevant institutions of the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--agree to make a significant contribution to the process, it will be necessary to create an active network of international entities that follow the political talks and can serve as an advisory committee in matters of special relevance or difficulty. This network could also be very useful as a channel of communication between the local actors and the international community for the presentation of any future agreement.

About the Report

The international community lacks updated information on the latest stage of the Basque conflict—the longest enduring violent conflict in Western Europe—and the emerging opportunity for a peace process among the key parties to it. This report examines recent promising developments, outlines remaining obstacles, and offers recommendations to ensure that the present opportunities for peace in the Basque Country are not lost.

Gorka Espiau Idoiaga served as spokesperson for Elkarri, the movement for dialogue in the Basque region, from 1995 to 2005. He is a 2005–2006 Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and a Senior Associate at the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.

Related Publications

The Basque Conflict and ETA: The Difficulties of an Ending

The Basque Conflict and ETA: The Difficulties of an Ending

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

By: Teresa Whitfield

Violence at the hands of the Basque separatist organization ETA was for many years an anomalous feature of Spain’s transition to democracy. This report, which draws on the author’s book Endgame for ETA: Elusive Peace in the Basque Country (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2014), explains why this was the case, examines both the factors that contributed to ETA’s October 2011 announcement of an end to violence and the obstacles encountered in moving forward from that announcement to disarmame...

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Justice, Security & Rule of Law; Peace Processes

Former USIP Fellows Help Foster Basque Peace Breakthrough

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

By: Thomas Omestad

When they met during their fellowships at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in 2005, a lasting friendship was born. But as Pierre Hazan, a Swiss political scientist and former journalist, got to know Gorka Espiau Idoiaga, a peace activist from the Basque country of Spain, they had no idea that their friendship would bring them back together years later to help foster a breakthrough for peace in Western Europe’s last guerrilla conflict.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Ending with ETA? Elusive Peace in the Basque Country

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

By: Andrew Blum

In January the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), announced a “permanent, general and internationally verifiable ceasefire”. On February 7, leaders of Batasuna, a political party that served as ETA’s surrogate and has been banned since 2003, presented the statutes of a new party in a bid to re-enter the democratic game and pursue the goal of independence by solely political means.  With the support of USIP, Teresa Whitfield, of New York University’s Center on International C...

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Framing the State in Times of Transition

Framing the State in Times of Transition

Thursday, April 1, 2010

By: Laurel E. Miller; with Louis Aucoin

Analyzing nineteen cases, Framing the State in Times of Transition offers the first in-depth, practical perspective on the implications of constitution-making procedure, and explores emerging international legal norms.

View All Publications