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A two-question non-binding referendum in the Spanish Basque Countrymarker loosely regarding Basque self-determination from Spainmarker was scheduled for 25 October 2008.

The poll was proposed by former lehendakari (president of the Basque country autonomous community) Juan José Ibarretxe. The first question was a yes or no vote on whether engaging in talks with ETA; the second was about whether there should be a political debate on the "right to decide of the Basque people" - a coded reference to the issue of whether the Basque Country should remain in Spain.

The vote call was appealed by the Spanish government and eventually overturned by the Constitutional Court of Spain on 11 September 2008.


The referendum-like vote was announced on 28 September 2007 by Juan José Ibarretxe, with the support of the three party coalition that made up his Government, namely the Basque Nationalist Party (Ibarretxe's own), Eusko Alkartasuna and Ezker Batua Berdeak.. The lone Aralar MP also supported the call while the Basque branches of both socialist PSOE and conservative Popular Party rejected it. This made a 33-33 tie at the Basque regional Parliament.

On 27 June, 2008, the referendum cite was approved by the Basque Parliament narrowly by 34 to 33, and 7 abstentions. To break the existing 33 to 33 votes tie at the Basque autonomous Parliament, the referendum cite received the tactical support of one of the EHAK MPs –regarded as ETA's political arm–, while the other 7 MPs of this party abstained.

Ibarretxe preferred to call the vote a "consultation" rather than a referendum and stated he would negotiate its terms with the Spanish central government until June 2008, and then would submit a possible mutually accepted plan to a binding referendum; should the negotiations fail. Ibarretxe stated he would hold a non-binding referendum on the future of the Basque Country. Eventually in his plans, if his coalition still held government, another referendum in 2010 would then decide the final status of the Basque Country. (later on, the coalition he led failed to retain the government at the next regional election. Ibarretxe stated he believes an open-ended discussion on Basque independence would help to end the conflict with ETA.

The two questions were revealed on 28 May 2008. The questions proposed were:


¿Está usted de acuerdo en apoyar un proceso de final dialogado de la violencia, si previamente ETA manifiesta de forma inequívoca su voluntad de poner fin a la misma de una vez y para siempre?.

Do you agree to supporting a process of dialogued end to the violence, if ETA previously declares unmistakably their will to end it once and for all?


¿Está usted de acuerdo en que los partidos vascos, sin exclusiones, inicien un proceso de negociación para alcanzar un acuerdo democrático sobre el ejercicio del derecho a decidir del Pueblo Vasco, y que dicho acuerdo sea sometido a referéndum antes de que finalice el año 2010?

Do you agree that the Basque parties, without exceptions, start a process of negotiation to reach a democratic agreement about the right to decide of the Basque People, and that the aforementioned agreement will be submitted to referendum before the end of the year 2010?

Those eligible to vote were the Spanish citizens registered to vote in the Basque Countrymarker. That caused criticism from those advocating for the referendum to include the so-called historical Basque territories and those who asked for it to include all of Spainmarker.


The referendum call was widely seen as a veiled attempt to garner support for Basque independence.. As such, both the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and the People's Party, including their Basque branches, reject his plan, while regional nationalist parties such as the Galician Nationalist Bloc and the Republican Left of Catalonia expressed their support. .The Basque MP Santiago Abascal, of the People's Party, caused a minor controversy at the regional parliament when he broke a piece of paper simbolising the referendum, arguing that Ibarretxe's project would break the Basque society, further dividing it.

There is a part within the Basque Nationalist Party itself which opposed more or less overtly the convenience of the referendum, since it is thought to strenghthen ETA from its current downfall. This part of the party includes former party leader Josu Jon Imaz or Bilbaomarker's mayor Iñaki Azkuna, who thinks that the referendum should not be held with ETA being active and without a general consensus to hold it in the first place.

ETA in a communique declared the referendum a fraud, still, the media especulated with the fact that ETA could have declared a temporary, tactical and unofficial recess of its activities during the previous dates before the referendum was discussed at the Basque autonomous parliament, only to resume its attacks right after the referendum was appealed by the government before the Constitutional Court of Spain for a constitutionality check.

Constitutional Court

The Spanish government appealed the vote to the Constitutional Court of Spain, thus suspending the referendum plans. The suspension occurred on 17 July 2008.. The Court ruled unanimously on 11 September 2008 that the referendum was unconstitutional, as only the central government could call such a referendum. The court said only Spain's central government can convene referendums and that the issue this one wanted to raise — the possibility of changing the Basque region's relationship with the rest of Spain — is something that all Spaniards would have to decide on, not just Basques; in turn, Ibarretxe said he respected the court ruling, while adding that the court was "acting for political reasons disguised in a legal veneer".

He subsequently called on "the Basque people" and its political parties to appeal to the European Court of Human Rightsmarker to take Spain to task over the court decision..


On the day the vote was to have taken place, Saturday October 25, 2008, up to 20,000 protestors rallied in six Basque cities demanding a referendum on proposed moves towards independence. It was intended that the vote would have allowed for a potential dialogue with ETA, as well as negotiations towards a full referendum on independence within two years. This followed a march earlier in the month by a few thousands Basques demonstrating to demand secession, including some scattered supporters of ETA. The vote followed Kosovo's declaration of independence, supported by the EU, which had been thought by some to be influential on an independent Basque country. Furthermore, calls for Scottish indepedence following an initial referendum in 2010 were in line with the Basque case.

See also

Ibarretxe Plan


  1. Ibarretxe calls referendum for 2008, The Sydney Morning Herald, September 28, 2007
  2. Freedom battle at Basque elections | World news | The Guardian
  3. [1]
  4. 1ST LEAD: Basque region to hold referendum on independence in 2008,, September 28, 2007
  6. Basque leader unveils questions for referendum seen as push for independence from Spain, PR Inside, May 28, 2008
  7. President of the Basque Government reveals his two first referendum questions,, May 28, 2008
  8. ROUNDUP: Spain rejects Basque referendum on independence next year,, September 28, 2007
  10. Spain and its regions | Autonomy games |
  11. Azkarraga apuesta por la "confrontación" si no hay pacto y Azkuna cuestiona la consulta
  12. Basque terrorists ETA dismiss the Ibarretxe referendum as a fraud
  13. ETA fijó una minitregua para el debate de la consulta de Ibarretxe · ELPAÍ
  14. Basque lawmakers approve plan for referendum seen as breakaway bid from Spain, International Herald Tribune, June 27, 2008
  15. C2D - Centre for research on direct democracy

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