A Basque proposal for virtual independence from Spain has unexpectedly won approval in the regional parliament.Politicians have voted by 39 to 35 to accept what is being referred to as ‘free association’ between the Basque country and Spain. The project is known as the Ibarretxe Plan, after the head of the region’s government, Juan José Ibarretxe. He championed it as a means to end the Basque separatist group ETA’s campaign of bombings and shootings that has killed about 850 people since 1968. After the vote he said he would call the prime minister to request negotiations to ease the passage of his proposal. But the approval puts the regional government on a collision course with Spain’s ruling Socialist and main opposition Popular Party. In Madrid, the deputy head of the ruling socialists was adamant. She said there was nothing new in the Ibarrexte plan – that it was unconstitutional and therefore should not be approved. The opposition was even more outspoken. Angela Cebes said that those who had got the most out of the approval were ETA: “Institutionally they have gained what they have been killing for for years – a radical nationalist project that splits Spain and fractures and isolates the Basque country,” he said. The plan will now pass to the national parliament where it is almost certain to be rejected. But the fact that the proposal will even be debated in Madrid is a symbolic victory for Ibarrexte.