The Basque country peace process has ground to a halt since ETA announced a permanent ceasefire seven months ago. Despite the militant group’s declaration, the path to peace has been littered with obstacles, most notably the continuation of urban violence. On the political front, Batasuna, widely considered to be ETA’s political wing, has repeatedly stated that the peace process is stalled, while the Popular Party has refused to sit down with people it calls outlaws. For more than 25-years, the Basque Nationalist Party has headed the regional government. Its leader is Juan Jose Ibarretxe. EuroNews caught up with the president of the Basque government at the eighth European-Latin America forum in Biarritz to discuss how the peace process can be restarted.
EuroNews: It’s been seven months since ETA declared a permanent ceasefire but there’s been a resurgence of urban violence. What is the state of the peace process?
Juan Jose Ibarretxe: Even if there are pictures and politicians who want to give the impression that there’s confusion and confrontations everywhere, I remain optimistic. I’m convinced that we’re going towards a definitive peace and we’re going to establish political accords between the Basque Country and Spain that are worthy of the 21st Century. Despite the difficulties, I’m confident and I believe that there is a solid base on which to rebuild the peace process.
EN: You say we have a historic chance to secure peace, but is the disappearance of ETA enough or are there other conditions? If so, what are they?
JJI: No, peace must be achieved and ETA violence must disappear once and for all. From that moment on, it’s up to the political parties and us, the Basque society, to decide our future. In this new context, on one hand we looking at the end of violence and on the other hand the beginning of an institutional future which logically depends on the democratic choices made by the men and women of the Basque country.
EN: You’ve officially declared an open dialogue with ETA which depends on demilitarisation and prisoner releases. Do you believe that ETA is united or is there a faction opposed to negotiations?
JJI: I think the best thing is not to enter into this type of thinking which leads nowhere. To know what ETA thinks and how it operates internally is a subject which doesn’t interest us. ETA has shown its intent to renounce violence definitively, that’s a subject which interests us and at the same time, it’s a chance we have to take. The Basque, the French and the Spanish people and Europeans must know that talks with ETA are officially open; and secondly that Basque political parties are sat around the negotiating table.
I’m convinced that ETA’s violence is going to end for good and afterwards, we the Basque political parties, will reach a political accord which the Basque people will vote on.
EN: How will it be possible to create a round table for all Basque political parties to meet for talks when the Popular Party refuses to sit down with Batasuna, the presumed political wing of ETA? Do you think an agreement can be reached without them?
JJI: I think every party is needed but no-one is indispensable and no-one has the right to veto. Do we need the Popular Party to be there? Of course we do. But we also need Batasuna, the Socialist party, and all the Basque parties. The participation of everyone is necessary, but I insist, no-one’s indispensable.
I’m absolutely convinced that the Popular Party will contribute to the debate because otherwise how will it justify not working towards finding a solution?
EN: On October 25 at the European Parliament, the Socialists will ask what role Brussels can play in the Basque peace process. I ask you the same question now…
JJI: We’ve been looking for a concrete way in which European and international institutions can help. Why? Because we believe that it’s important to share the burden, to have allies. European Union assistance is crucial towards kick-starting the peace process for finding political solutions as to how the Basque country and Spain can coexist. However, we remain aware that the main task of reaching agreements comes down to us.
EN: According to the Popular Party, by taking the debate to Brussels, Batasuna has achieved one of its goals – to make the conflict via the peace process international. Isn’t that a contradiction when France, for example, has always said that ETA is a Spanish affair?
JJI: Yes but in France, Batasuna is a legal party. Personally, I’d like to ask the Popular Party if they believe European intervention in Northern Ireland’s peace process was a capitulation to terrorism and violence. I think that’s it’s an exaggerated argument and illogical on the part of the Popular Party. I think talking about the Basque conflict, the disappearance of violence, political accords with the EU and the fact of being on the worldwide political agenda is all positive. It’s another element that will help us establish a base on which to solve our problems permanently.