The Southern Basque Country: A Really Legal and Legally Real Possibility

by Iban Ugarte. 

It is a frequently asked question among people in the world who are interested in the Basque Country, whether unification is possible between the southern Basque provinces, which are currently divided between an autonomous community including the provinces of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, and the single provincial community of Navarre. This article aims to explain the legal possibilities that exist in the current system to allow that unification.

Certainly, the question of annexation, federation or any form of integration between the Autonomous Basque Region and the Foral Community of Navarre is a topic deserving much more than a brief analysis as we do in this article. Still, we will attempt to give some succinct, but necessary insights and a sketch for the reader to begin to understand, at least, the sea in which we are navigating.

Foral Parliament of Navarre

Foral Parliament of Navarre | Photo: EL DIARIO VASCO

Beginning with a historical approach to the issue, we must take a brief look at the pathway to autonomy which each of these communities experienced. On one hand, the current Basque Autonomous Community gained autonomy through Article 151 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, which allowed autonomy along with a high level of powers to those territories who, during the Second Spanish Republic, had held referendums on autonomy, granting access to Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia, although it is true that Andalusia also gained autonomy this same way.

However, not only did Navarre not gain access through Article 151, it did not gain it the ordinary way the rest of the Spanish autonomous communities did either. Navarre gained access to its autonomy through the First Additional Provision of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.  This means that, by updating the Provincial Territories´ Historic Rights, the constituent assumes de facto the existence of Navarre as a pre-constitutional legal-political subject.

In Spain the “Basque-Navarre” issue has always been a matter of utmost national consideration, and it has not been any less of an issue when the legislative body has had to regulate these relations, both future and hypothetical, but relations nonetheless, between these two autonomous communities. These relations are governed primarily by the Spanish Constitution of 1978, the Basque Statute of Autonomy of 1979 and the Improvement Act of the Foral Regime of Navarre of 1982.

The Spanish Constitution proclaims, in its Fourth Transitional Provision, that for the purposes of a possible integration of Navarre to the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, the initiative belongs to the competent foral entity of Navarre, who would have to approve it by a majority of its members and bring it to referendum convened expressly for this purpose. Therefore we see that the highest law of Spanish legislation already stipulates the integration of the two communities as long as it provides for a procedure to carry it out. And this is especially significant given that it only allows for “Basque Autonomous Community-Navarre” integration as, in article 145.1, the Constitution itself prohibits federation between autonomous communities.

This Fourth Transitional Provision is confirmed by the Additional Second Provision of the Improvement Act of the Foral Regime of Navarre in which it states: “Parliament is to be the provincial body with powers to: 1) Exercise the initiative referred to in the Fourth Transitional Provision of the Constitution”.

On the other hand, we must mention that the Basque Statute of Autonomy also recognizes the integration of Navarre to the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, since in its second article it tells us that Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Navarra have the right to comprise the Basque Autonomous Community, and that the territories will coincide with the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Araba, “as well as Navarre, if so decided by the citizens of that territory”.

There is no doubt that the Basque Statute of Autonomy, when referring to the decision of the people of Navarre, refers to the Fourth Transitory Provision of the Constitution and to the Second Additional Provision of the Improvement Act, leaving the initiative of integration up to the Navarre foral institutions.

Therefore, keeping these brief notes in mind, now comes the time to respond to the questions that we posed at the beginning. Is there a possibility for “Basque Autonomous Community-Navarre” integration into one community without disrupting constitutional order?  It is clear that not only is there such a possibility, but that the Spanish constituent planned it this way, setting up a procedure to enable it and, more importantly, leaving the initiatives of will up to the foral institutions of Navarre.

Furthermore, what would the pathway be for trying to address the issue of annexation or integration? As we have repeatedly said, the initiative lands in the hands of the competent foral entity of Navarre, none other than the Foral Parliament of Navarre.  Once the integration is approved (it is assumed that after negotiating the way that it would be developed with the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country) it would be brought to a referendum. This is no trivial matter, since the subject of the referendum in question is not stated in any legal document.

This author humbly believes that trying to expand the subject of the referendum beyond the provincial community of Navarra would be an exercise in stupidity, worthy of medical attention. If the initiative passed by referendum, the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country would have to be modified substantially, although less than what the reader might think, since the Statute, as we have said, already admits the annexation of Navarre.

Finally, and to summarize, nowadays even the people who stand the most against “Basque Autonomous Community-Navarre” integration deny the existence of mechanisms that make it possible, or even of the legality or constitutionality of integration. Simply put, there are sectors (majorities) in the foral community who do not even want to raise this question, leaving it as an issue of mere political will instead of a subject of just legal matter.

Iban Ugarte Iban Ugarte Herrarte is a lawyer

About the Author

Iñaki Galdos Irazabal
Iñaki Galdos Irazabal is editor at Basque Tribune. E-Mail | @inakigaldosira

2 Comments on "The Southern Basque Country: A Really Legal and Legally Real Possibility"

  1. A very clever article. All the discussions are opened.

    • Thank you Kontxi. You are absolutely right. Conflicts like that are often solved by one of these three options. Keep it like it nowadays is. A 180º degrees change and become an equal part of the basque country (or whatever formula they could use) or a midway solution which would involve a mojority of the navarre´s people. It’s an exclusive political will as I say in the article. Actually, I honestly think that we face a really thrilling times about this topic. Quite sure. Best wishes.

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