“Can the EU give new responses to new questions?” Josu Juaristi on #StatelessChallenges

News / 11.5.16

Josu Juaristi Abaunz, Member of the European Parliament, spoke at a conference entitled “Stateless Nations and Europe: New Challenges, New Opportunities” on a panel looking at stateless nations on the verge of independence and possibilities for constructing new territorial strategies in Europe, which took place at the University of Minho on 18 April 2016.

According to Josu Juaristi, the two pertinent questions shaping the debate on the future of the Basque Country are legality and legitimacy. Firstly, in the case of the Basque Country, ‘legality’ is what demarcates the Spanish State to the south and French State to the north, challenging and debilitating Basque rights as a nation. One could also argue that the decision of the Basque Autonomous Community’s Parliament to position itself behind the right to self-determination and the right to decide falls under the term ‘legality’. Yet, this decisive outcome has had no practical bearing on the Spanish State.

Juaristi explained that Basque ‘legitimacy’ lies in Basque identity as a nation, and even more importantly than a shared historical heritage, legitimacy derives from the will of the people. The question of how many Basques favour independence remains unresolved as a referendum, which could ascertain these figures has never been held in any part of the Basque country.

He continued his impassioned intervention by stating that, “when we bring these debates to European negotiations, we see that the majority of the unionist political forces are accustomed to say: ‘why do you support erecting new borders in a European Union, which has none?’ We all know that this is not exactly true. The European Union clearly does have internal borders, which delineate the territories of its Member States. In the case of the Spanish government, the Popular Party (‘Partido Popular’), as well as the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (‘Partido Socialista Obrero Español’) generally characterize the demands of Catalans, Basques, Galicians, and even Scots or Flemings as meaningless and impracticable, ridiculing our claims to statehood with the notion of an unworkable European Union consisting of 50 or 60 Member States”.

Josu Juaristi Quote


“They use this discourse of a federal Europe and bring it to the European Parliament precisely to say “no” to our aspirations. What is especially surprising is that despite the history of the socialist party, it now firmly stands against the right to decide. In my opinion, however, this is a question of democracy. The right to decide signifies democracy, more so than any other factor which impacts the development of a society, and remains the best tool to contribute to the resolution of the political conflict in the Basque country.”

“What we need to explore further is, whether the European Union has the capacity to create a democratic protocol, which could effectively, flexibly and pragmatically deal with the procedures and consequences of self-determination claims; to give new responses to new questions. For now, European treaties are strikingly silent on the matter”.

Juaristi emphasized that the key is civil society. In the case of the Basque country, this means building popular support, not only for the idea of a Basque nation, which indisputably exists, but the idea of a Basque State. “Our job is to make this idea as attractive, exciting and attainable as possible. We always say, every nation and every people, has its own dynamics, specific challenges and unique advantages,” he added. To conclude, he demonstrated how this happens in practice; “we meaningfully contribute to initiatives, which exert pressure from below at the level of the citizen, we have been helping to develop and launch a campaign called ‘It is in our hands’ (Gure Esku Dago)”.