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Basque Parliament elections: business as usual? New President of IISL Board

12 Dec 2016 11:01 | Joxerramon Bengoetxea

Euskal politics, is the new Basque Government business as usual? and Is this a bad thing?

The Basque Country held its regional elections last September, 25th. A new government has been formed in two months (2016-11-24) whereas almost a year and a second election were necessary to form a government in Spain. The 28 seats of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV/EAJ) plus the 9 seats of the  Socialist Party (PSE-PSOE-EE, Spanish federalist) make up for a "minority" of 37 seats in the 75 member Parliament. The other parties, EH Bildu with 18 (a colation of four parties around the abertzale left) , Podemos with 11 (the emergent Alternative left all over Spain) and the Popular Party with 9 but only 10% of the vote (right wing Spanish unionist).

The former minority government of the PNV (29/75) had only 8 ministers and managed to get through with the support of the Socialists in Parliament to approve the budget and the occasional support of Bildu. Iñigo Urkullu has been returned as Lehendakari, President, with a new and larger government composed of 8 PNV ministers and 3 Socialist ministers. Maria Jesus Carmen San Jose Lopez, who was director for relations with Parliament under the Socialist Government of Patxi Lopez, will be the socialist minister for Labour and Justice, and her deputy minister for Justice responsible for the Oñati Institute IISL will be the lawyer Miren Gallastegi. Labour has been split from Employment and Social Affairs, and Justice from Governance and Administration.

The new coalition will probably manage to get through much of its government program because it is quite unlikely that the opposition will unite to outvote it in Parliament. Whereas EH Bildu and Podemos agree on a large number of issues, from social policy to the right to decide, the Spanish Popular Party will not want to be seen as voting alongside those it considers “radicals”. Bildu is now a modernised, competent and credible alternative, and the Populares are not very popular in Euskadi.

The new government 2016-2020 can be considered novel and audacious, on the one hand and timid and low-key on the other. Let me explain. It is audacious because the sum of the Socialist MPs does not really secure a stable majority in Parliament. Urkullu probably preferred to have those 9 MPs on his side rather than risk an overall majority eventually forming between EH Bildu, Podemos and the Socialists. Maybe not right now, but perhaps later on. It is also audacious because three Socialist ministers are now in the Government and they will probably want to shine on their own. In the midst of a disastrous leadership and ideological crisis, the Socialist Party is in serious need of some positive notoriety after its leader Pedro Sanchez stepped down when the Party facilitated the continuity of PP leader Rajoy as Spanish premier.

But in my opinion the new colaition government - as in the German große Koalition - is also pretty much "business as usual": stability, pragmatism, bilateral negotiation, consensus are its keywords, nothing like the past experience of the more beligerant and courageous Ibarretxe Governments, and nothing like the sovereignty claim of the Catalan Government. For the first time, the Spanish political opinion-makers are praising Urkullu and the Basque Nationalist Party, not necessarily a good omen for many in Euskadi. Such praise had not been made since the moderate Ardanza Governments, also in coalition with the Socialists (1986-1998). The praise can also be explained because Rajoy might need PNV support to pass the Budget in the Spanish Parliament. What results are to come from a melt-down of the tension is yet to be seen. 'Business as usual' is not to be discarded in a negative sense. What we have been seeing in the recent USA presidential elections or in the Brexit referendum, and what we might see in other European elections to be held next year is not precisely 'usual' or normal. The alt right, the Tea Party, the mad brexiteers, the populists and ultra-nationalists, those who advocate illiberal democracy, are not at all 'business as usual' but rather anti-system. They do point to and feed on a serious legitimacy crisis in “Western” political systems, a crisis socio-legal scholars would do well to examine, explore and analyse in all its expressions. Happily we have little of that in Euskadi.

Perhaps, after all, 'business as usual' can even be supportive of a democratic way of life that values dialogue, rational discussion, political negociation, welfare and the Commons, social justice and sustainability policies. Perhaps we Basques can innovate by sticking to our traditional values of Covenants, Democracy, Cooperatives and Equality.


  • 12 Dec 2016 16:05 | Joxerramon Bengoetxea
    let us hope relations with the new Minister and Deputy Minister for Justice (PSOE) will continue to be as productive as they have been with the different Ministers of three different parties that have preceded them - PNV (Guevara, Erkoreka) -PSOE-(Recalde, Jauregi, Egea, Mendia) and EA (Caño, Intxaurraga, Azkarraga).
    The idea is that the IISL is in an important sense "truly apolitical". As regards the provincial (Gipuzkoa) and municipal (Oñati) governments, the IISL has always had very good relations with both PNV and Bildu
    There have also been elections to the Rectorship of the University of the Basque Country, and Nekane Balluerka, who specialises in psychology research methods, has been elected as the first female Rector of the UPV/EHU. We hope the relationship will continue to be excellent between the IISL and the UPV/EHU
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