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Cablegate: Spain: Regional Tensions Simmer Through The

VZCZCXRO6392
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMD #0865/01 2181445
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051445Z AUG 08 ZDK RUEHMO #4297
FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5208
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 3536

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 000865

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SP
SUBJECT: SPAIN: REGIONAL TENSIONS SIMMER THROUGH THE
SUMMER, BUT UNLIKELY TO BOIL OVER

REF: MADRID 828

MADRID 00000865 001.3 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The central government's relationship with
Spain's regions--particularly the so-called "historic
nationalities" of the Basque country (el Pais Vasco),
Catalonia, and to a lesser extent Galicia--continues to be a
topic of significant public discussion. Two key events have
largely driven the debate this summer: the Basque
parliament's approval of an initiative aimed at redefining
the region's relationship with Madrid, and the publication of
a "Manifesto for a Common Language" that calls for protecting
the rights of Spanish speakers in regions with co-official
languages, such as Pais Vasco or Catalonia. These are far
from the only new developments, however; in July, two Catalan
political parties (the Catalan Socialists, which currently
lead a tripartite regional government, and the largest
component of the Convergencia i Unio (CiU) coalition) voted
at their party congresses to stake out stronger regionalist
positions, and publication of the regions' fiscal balances
sparked controversy as the GOS worked to renegotiate the
regional financing system (reftel). The latest events will
continue to demand significant GOS time and energy, drawing
attention away from other pressing issues such as Spain's
worsening economy. END SUMMARY

//BASQUE REFERENDUM HALTED FOR NOW//

2. (U) Spain's Constitutional Tribunal (TC) is currently
considering the legality of a Basque proposal, approved by
the regional parliament in late June, to move forward with
the referendum portion of the so-called Ibarretxe Plan. This
initiative, named after regional government head Juan Jose
Ibarretxe (U.S. governor equivalent), asserts the right of
the Basque people to self-determination and seeks to open up
a national debate on the political status of the Basque
region. The plan calls for a referendum to be held on
October 25, 2008 that, if approved, would a) support peace
negotiations to end ETA violence if the terrorist group
demonstrates its willingness to definitively cease its
terrorist activity, and b) send a mandate to all Basque
political parties to begin a process of negotiation with the
central Spanish government with the aim of reaching agreement
on the Basque people's right to self-determination, to be put
to a referendum before 2011. The TC,s decision to accept
the government's appeal against the October referendum
proposal however, effectively means it would not be held
until at least December 15, 2008--if at all.

3. (SBU) PNV officials stress, both publicly and privately to
us, that they will adhere to the TC,s ruling and have no
intention of pursuing "illegal" measures to gain
self-determination--even though some PNV members also tell us
they consider it ridiculous that their nonbinding referendum
could be ruled unconstitutional. Ibarretxe, however, has
promised to use all legal means at his disposal to fight for
the "Basque cause." Moreover, some members of his governing
coalition, as well as the radical communist-separatist PCTV
party that cast the deciding vote in favor of the referendum,
have called for a more aggressive resistance.

//POLITICS OF LANGUAGE//

4. (SBU) Language policy has become this summer's rallying
cry against Spain's regional nationalists, at least in the
media. As of late July, more than 130,000 Spaniards had
signed the so-called "Manifesto for a Common Language"
launched in June by philosopher and writer Fernando Savater
(a founder of the new Union, Progress, and Democracy party
that won a congressional seat in its first election in 2008),
and supported by around 20 other Spanish intellectuals. The
manifesto, also signed by a number of leading opposition
Partido Popular (PP) politicians as well as some
semi-prominent Socialist supporters, is a reaction to Basque
and especially Catalan efforts to prioritize the use of their
co-official languages in education and public services, which
manifesto promoters assert discriminates against
Spanish-speakers in those regions. Prominent daily El Mundo,
always willing to take up sensationalistic causes against GOS
policies, has trumpeted the latest tally of prominent
signatories almost daily on its front page and continues to
push the Manifesto.

5. (SBU) Basque and Catalan natives, as well as some
non-natives of the regions, seem to largely regard the
Manifesto as a political attack against their languages and
national identity, arguing that Catalan or Euskera (the
Basque language) face a far greater threat and that their
regions allow both co-official language speakers and Spanish
speakers to live and work there with ease. The Manifesto's
complaints are hardly without merit, however, which is

MADRID 00000865 002.2 OF 003


probably why it has attracted some prominent signatories such
as major tourism sector company Grupo Marsans (which owns
low-cost carrier Spanair as well as hotel and car rental
chains), the five national police unions, and national soccer
team goalkeeper Iker Casillas, a Spanish hero following his
stellar performance during Spain's European soccer
championship in June. Education is the main issue for many
Spaniards. The Pais Vasco has decreed that Euskera should be
the principal language of teaching, while in Catalonia public
schools are taught in Catalan with only a maximum of three
hours of Spanish instruction per week. Even in Galicia more
than 700 citizens have made formal complaints to the Galicia
Bilingual Association during the past year, alleging various
forms of discrimination against Spanish speakers--such as
lower grades for school work done in Spanish or a refusal to
provide Spanish versions of tax documents and graduation
certificates for use in other regions.

//POLITICIANS FRAMING REGIONAL DEBATE//

6. (SBU) Regional-nationalist efforts frequently seem to be
more inspired by politically motivated party and regional
leaders than by popular demand. Basque President Ibarretxe
is pushing his plan, according to some Spanish press sources,
despite widespread apathy and even opposition within the PNV.
For instance, a senior member of the PNV executive in late
July expressed doubts about the timing of the plan to a
visiting poloff. Basque society may be even more divided.
The well-regarded Euskobarometro in May found solid blocks of
support for independence (25 %), federalism (35%), and the
current autonomy system (33%), and only 24% at that time
wanted Ibarretxe to maintain his position. The poll also
found that only 16% considered political issues to be a major
concern--many more cited unemployment (53%), violence (38%),
or housing (41%) as one of their top three worries.
Euskobarometro, however, also noted that Ibarretxe received a
7.5 approval rating from his own electorate, the highest of
any Basque politician, and a 5.1 rating among all Basques,
the second highest number.

7. (SBU) Catalonia saw two of its main parties move toward
more nationalist ground during party congresses in July,
although neither has argued for outright independence.
Convergencia Democratica, the larger of the two parties in
CiU (and whose leader, Artur Mas, also leads the coalition),
approved a party objective of making Catalonia a free and
sovereign nation in the Europe of the 21st century and
calling for the right to self-determination--an objective
demanded by the more radical sector of the party, according
to media reports. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which
is in federation with, rather than merely a branch of, the
PSOE, at its congress seemed to move into ground usually
occupied more by nationalist parties like CiU or the
independence-minded ERC. The PSC called for constitutional
reforms to include the "federalist" character of the Spanish
state, reiterated the concept of Catalonia as "a nation with
its own territory, language, culture, and history, which make
a national community," and demanded a voice for the party in
Europe.

8. (SBU) Regional politicians are not the only ones to blame,
however. Spain's two main parties, the ruling PSOE and
opposition PP, have been all but unable to hold civil
discussion in recent years on regional issues dealing with
Basques and Catalans. Our Catalan and Basque contacts
generally accuse the PP as having taken too strident a tone
against the regional nationalists and, particularly during
the second Aznar government (2000-04), contributing to an "us
versus them" mentality. President Zapatero on the other hand
tried too hard to make nice with the regions--partly in hopes
of capturing more votes for the Socialists there--but, in
giving a few inches, saw the nationalists try to take several
miles.

9. (SBU) Some observers see hope for improvements over the
coming years. Francisco Llera, Director of the
Euskobarometro program, told us he sees both the PP and PSOE
as having matured and learned from their mistakes of recent
years and believes there may be more room for agreement on
issues like the regional financing system, which the GOS is
currently renegotiating. Llera notes for example that
recently published figures show that the Community of Madrid,
Balearic Islands, Catalonia, and Valencia each put more money
into state coffers than they receive back. With two regions
led by the PP (Madrid and Valencia) and two led by the PSOE
(Balearics and Catalonia), there is a great incentive for the
two parties to reach agreement.

//COMMENT//


MADRID 00000865 003.2 OF 003


10. (SBU) Most of this summer's events seem to represent
politics as usual in Spain. Spain's victory in the European
soccer championships offered a small, but telling, insight
into the way in which the center-regions debate can intrude
on almost any arena. Spain's success--with a team
comprising players from across the country and including
tournament MVP Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona--prompted
indifference or even disdain from some Catalan politicians.
A spokesperson from the leftist nationalist ERC said before
the championship that some party leaders "hope Germany
defeats Spain in the championship match." Many press sources
hailed the unifying nature of the team, describing a new
enthusiasm in places like Barcelona for the national squad's
success and noted public support for the team by PNV
officials.

11. (SBU) Although we continue to watch for signs that Spain
is fracturing, this seems unlikely in the near to medium term
(a sentiment shared by those politicians and observers with
whom we have met in recent weeks. While Euskobarometro
Director Llera may be correct about the prospects for a
better climate for debate, we believe that in general Spain
will continue muddling through on this issue, with the
Basques and Catalans pushing for more decentralized powers
and recognition of their historic status (and other regions
balking at anything that might reward these regions at their
expense), Zapatero trying to make nice with the Pais Vasco
and Catalonia while fending off their biggest demands, and
the PP resistant to most nationalist demands. Nonetheless,
center-regional tensions will continue to occupy a
significant portion of Spain's political energy, distracting
the GOS from more important issues like Spain's precarious
economy and making its recognition of Kosovo in the near term
unlikely.
Aguirre

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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