THERE is a danger that the Spanish state as we know it could splinter into various small provinces still under the Spanish umbrella but with greater autonomy. The first example is the Basque Country whose President asked last week for the region to be given special status and a degree of independence. The government of Jose Maria Aznar dismissed the call claming that it would be against the Spanish constitution, in other words one-state one-government. While all the Spanish provinces have a devolved system of government (many have more decision-making powers than the Scottish and Welsh parliaments) for some parts of Spain it is not enough and they are actively looking at the possibility of establishing regional states within the framework of the European Union. Closely watching the situation in the Basque Country will be the Catalans and probably even the Galicians. If the Basques get a deal then they would be next in line. But while Madrid can dismiss the calls from the troubled provinces it is not a problem which is going to go away. Both Cataluña and the Basque Country have nationalist governments which have been democratically elected and therefore it is obvious that there is a strong nationalist movement in the two provinces. The Partido Popular receives only a small share of the vote in both areas. So what should the Spanish government do? Hope the problem is just going to go away or listen to what they are saying. I suspect that Aznar will take the first option. But he is making a mistake. By cold-shouldering the Basques and the Catalans he is just playing into the hands of the nationalists. I believe he has little option but to reach a compromise with both provinces. It will not resolve the situation but it is no good swimming against the tide of nationalism which is slowly engulfing Spain at the moment.
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