The handshake was welcoming, the smiles displayed for the press, but after talks between Spain’s prime minister and the leader of the moderate Basque government, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero came out from the meeting to announce there was no deal.
Zapatero had been presented with a plan leading towards more autonomy for the Basques, including a local referendum. “It’s clear as water, and it should be clear as water, that he cannot proceed with any popular consultation – which wouldn’t have any binding force anyway. It cannot be done, it will not be done, it won’t happen,” he said.
However Juan José Ibarretxe insists a referendum next October on self-determination would be legal, if not binding. He said: “For me, the question is not solved at all, no way. My hand is still there to shake, and the offer to reach a deal is still open, as well as my agenda.”
The Basque parliament will be asked to approve a referendum in June, in a bid to persuade Madrid to accept the Basques’ right to freely decide their future. However, it is unclear which side would win if it came to a vote.