Basque country politician Patxi López is leading the biggest political upheaval for his region in recent times – the 49 year old socialist has ended three decades of nationalist government.
To clinch the job as the region’s new president, he persuaded the conservative Popular Party into an alliance with his socialists , ousting the nationalists despite them winning the most votes. The socialist/conservative political marriage is a deal unthinkable at national level but IS possible in this Spanish region marred by separatist terrorism. Patxi Lopez has been talking to Euronews in first interview with an international television channel since he took up the presidential post. Euronews: “Over the last three decades the presidential residence has housed only nationalist presidents – until you that is – What does this mean for the Basque country?” Patxi Lopez: “ We hope it will open a new era in Basque politics, to leave behind the old ways of continual conflict triggered by divisions between nationalists and non-nationalists . We want to unite all the Basque people in shared projects. To show this government’s priorities are those of all its citizens and are a long way from the obsessions of some political leaders.” EN: “The Basque Nationalist Party will make this difficult considering the kind of opposing noises they are already making. The PNV condemns the fact that its the first time the independent left which is close to ETA is not represented in parliament and that you’ve taken advantage of this.” PL: “Yes I know. But in fact these criticisms are not relevant to me since they show a lack of democratic culture. Let me explain – those people who have worked as a link in a chain for a terrorist group, that give them a political cover, that look for finance or give social support to those that kill the people of this country simply because they think differently, don’t have a place in politics or in democratic institutions.” EN: “Why do you think the nationalist parties, in particular the PNV, want these groups represented in the Basque Parliament?” PL: “ Probably because the Basque Nationalist Party made a kind of electoral calculation that they would be. They’ve been clear on this point. The PNV claimed that these groups close to ETA would convert into support for their presidential candidate. Indeed they had already sort this support in the past. For the Basque country it is vital that the entire political community rejects not only violence but the false arguments that justify that violence.” EN: “ Another point which annoys the nationalists is the deal signed between the socialists and the conservative Popular Party…, an unimaginable alliance in Madrid, but which became a reality in the Basque country.” PL: “ I do not know what annoys them more …. the agreement itself or that they are having to stomach the fact they’ve had to handover the government after 30 years. In either case I hope that they will feel better as soon as possible.. It is necessary that the nationalists assume their responsibilities in the region because in opposition they too can help re build this country.” EN: “ What do you want to alter in the fight against Basque terrorism?” PL: “ It is necessary that we use all the instruments of the rule of law to fight against the terrorists and this will include the Basque police force as they take on ETA. We will give them all the means for this mission. Justice must also be used with firmness and with the cooperation of other countries. It is already the case with France. This is going so well – I can assure you that ETA has never been so weak in its history. In just a few months, three of its leaders have been arrested – this is incredible. It is true ETA still has the capacity to strike, but they know it’s from a position of weakness and they know that they have already lost.” EN: “Not so long ago its was a weakened ETA with whom the socialist and conservative parties wanted to negotiate…. how you assess where we are now?” PL: “ETA wasted its best opportunity to end its macabre pilgrimage. The world of the radical independent left also had its chance to integrate into the democratic system but they did’nt take it. Now they have to be clear what they really want.” EN: “ Recently the leader of the Basque Socialist party said the terrorist conflict would be finished in two years. Do you share his optimism?” PL: “No, I would not offer any date, and Jesus Eguiguren shares that view. With an ETA so weak, if we reinforce our effectiveness against terrorism, it is foreseeable that even they will begin to understand that their future is disappearing. “ – At the same time if we do not leave any space in which they can create arguments to justify violence, ETA will not be able to find successors. I think that its end is close.” EN: “You have climbed the ladder of power in the Basque country until reaching that of president. How do you live with such pressure?” PL: “You mean the terrorist threat? If I said that one ends up being accustomed to it , I would be lying. Nobody can get used to changing ones life so radically, ….not to be able to return to the same bar with friends, not to be able to have favourite places to go to with your wife. It is harsh …. but it can’t be allowed to paralyse you….If the fear paralyses you, you will achieve nothing . What remains a constant is the determination to put an end to the violence.” EN: “ One recurring fear of the nationalists is that the power of decision making will now be tipped in favour of Madrid.” PL: “I know, but this is not a true representation because we, the Basque socialists, have shown that we are best at defending the interests of the Basque citizens in the region.” “ – And unlike the nationalists, we do not seek to manufacture a confrontation with the Spanish central government in order to give the Basque government more importance. We have a different strategy, collaboration is good for everyone and conflict for no one. Thus we will defend the interests of the Basque people and be open to all.”