In September, the Catalan premier Artur Mas, of the conservative Catalan nationalist CiU group, called his secession-charged Catalan election for November 25. Soon afterward he met with Iñigo Urkullu, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), who emerged victorious in the October regional elections. Urkullu said he wasn't going to echo Mas' secessionist line because the Basques already had want Mas really wanted, which was a revenue-sharing fiscal pact with Madrid and because a similar bid at a secession referendum by a previous Basque premier, Juan José Ibarretxe, had failed.
This year's Basque electoral campaign was focused on the economic crisis. The conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists suggested that the PNV was still quietly on the secession warpath, but Urkullu pretended not to hear. He spoke once of a reform of the Statute of Gernika to obtain more self-government, but said nothing of secession.
For the same reason, the PNV has not been present in Mas' electoral campaign; nor has it paraded as a spearhead of secessionism, as it sometimes has in the past. Indeed there has been a reversal of roles: CiU has turned radical on secession, while the PNV has turned moderate.
Urkullu's PNV is vaccinated against the secessionist experiment. The present discomfiture of Mas is surely déjà vu for Urkullu, who had a frontline view between 2005 and 2008 of the fate of Ibarretxe's "sovereignty" plan.
A majority of the Basque public, though wanting more self-government, is opposed to secession
First came the vote on a "confederal" statute, amounting to the sovereignty sought by Ibarretxe with the support of the PNV alone, which was defeated in the national Congress in February 2005. In response, Ibarretxe held early Basque regional elections in May of that year, with pretensions similar to those of Mas. Like Mas, the PNV, far from gaining electoral support, lost some seats.
Then came Ibarretxe's proposal to hold a regional referendum on secession. The Socialist national government appealed to the Constitutional Court, which rejected it. The adventure ended with a coalition pact between the regional Socialists and the PP in the Basque Country. Together they won the next Basque regional elections in 2009. For the first time since the restoration of democracy after Franco's death, the PNV was ousted from power in the Basque Country under Ibarretxe. Thus ended the secessionist adventure.
Ibarretxe's plan had divided both the Basque public and the PNV itself, Ibarretxe being at odds with Urkullu and, earlier, with Jon Josu Imaz. A majority of the Basque public, though wanting more self-government, is opposed to secession, and prefers some form of federalism.
Urkullu sees that the key to holding power is to occupy a central position in the spectrum of public desires. This is why the PNV, which will be in power again in December, is going to focus its policies on matters close to the citizens: dealing with the economic crisis, and consolidating the end of ETA.
In this sense the failure of Mas represents relief rather than a problem for the Basque nationalists of the PNV. First, because it ratifies the validity of its realist strategy. And besides, because a victory for Mas' strategy would have implied greater secessionist pressure on the PNV, on the part of the abertzales (radical Basque separatists) of Bildu-EH.
Relief at Mas' failure, needless to say, extends to the Basque Socialists and the PP. Nor does Bildu-EH feel much sympathy with Mas and his sovereignty bid, which to them seems an opportunist adventure. In abertzale circles all the sympathy, as far as Catalan parties are concerned, goes to the leftist ERC and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).