Brief: AIETE, road map for peace in the Basque Country?

You can download the brief in pdf here.

On the 29th March 2012 the Basque Friendship and the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament organised a hearing with Mr Jonathan Powell on the role of the Aiete declaration as road map for peace in the Basque Country.

Jonathan Powell, chief of cabinet for Tony Blair, was one of 6 the international prominent figures that attended the October 17th Aiete Conference in San Sebastian. Mr Powell played a crucial role on the Good Friday agreements and their implementation.

The conference counted with the presence of 7 parties from the Basque Country (French PS, PNV, Aralar, Eusko Alkartasuna, Ezker Batua Berdea, Alternatiba and the Abertzale Left) and the intervention of MEPs Ana Miranda, Helmut Scholz, Frieda Brepoels and François Alfonsi. Alberto Spektorowski from the ICG and Conor Murphy, MP, MLA, from Sinn Fein also took the floor to explain their own perspectives and experience.

The Conference:

MEPs François Alfonsi and Frieda Brepoels chaired the meeting welcomed the participants and made a short introduction of the Basque Friendship.

Mr Powell started his intervention by stating clearly that the international personalities involved in Aiete didn’t aim to say to people in the Basque Country or in Spain what to do, but to share the lessons that they had learnt elsewhere in the world. He spoke about three main lessons learnt in the North of Ireland and elsewhere:

• “When you have a breakthrough, often people collapse to exhaustion, but in fact it is when you need to redouble your efforts.”
• “Peace is a process not an event. In the absence of process, you have a vacuum, and that vacuum is all too soon filled with violence.”
• “You can’t just wish a conflict away. In the end you need to have engagement, you have to have talking if the problem is to be resolved.”

He built on those lessons and explained how they may be taken into account on the Basque case; he spoke about how a group like ETA can’t just dissolve itself, about the need for engagement to draw frameworks and mechanisms to address the situation of prisoners, demobilisation and decommission issues. He made clear that there has to be “a process that leads to truth and reconciliation, if you don’t engage with these needs, there won’t be a lasting solution.”

He ended his intervention by calling for engagement and hoping that the EU will play a role to end violence for good in the Basque Country.

After Mr Powell, Basque political parties took the floor to give their views about the ongoing process; each of them made a 4 minute intervention that we have summarized below:

• Frederique Espagnac, PS, made clear that Aiete had been a major breakthrough and called on both Spain and France to overcome their doubts and engage in the process.
• Iñaki Irazabalbeitia, Aralar, called to build a peace without victors and vanquished through an inclusive dialogue.
• Izaskun Bilbao, PNV, requested ETA’s dissolution, asked and called on Basque parties to work quietly to decide amongst them which should be the role of the international community.
• José Navas, EB Berdea, made a series of proposals to settle the current situation, among others the call for new elections for the Basque parliament as he considered that in its current composition it doesn’t represent popular will.
• Peio Urizar, EA, stressed that the current process should make possible the overcoming of the conflict through the adaption of the institutional frame to the will of the majority of Basque society.
• Xabi Soto, Alternatiba, started his intervention saluting Arnaldo Otegi and asked the states to give steps on the o prisons policy and politically motivated repression.
• Xabier Mikel Errekondo, Ezker Abertzalea, highlighted the work of the international community and the fact that several of the initiatives regarding the Basque Country have been held in the European Parliament, to call the European Institutions to play their role.

Finally there was a Q&A round on which different participants took the floor to add their own experience or ask direct questions to Mr Powell. Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin MP, MLA, spoke about the Irish experience from the republican perspective; Alberto Spektorowski, member of the International Contact Group underlined their work and perspectives; Ana Miranda, MEP, spoke in the name of the friendship to ask about possible ways to lobby for the issue.

Olivier Peter, Secretary of the Swiss “Groupe d’amitie avec le Pays Basque” asked about the possible ways for third countries to be of assistance. Kris Van Dijck, president of the N-VA parliamentary group in the Flemish parliament, remembered the importance of recognising the underlying political conflict. Helmut Scholz, MEP, made the last intervention to point out the importance of implicating both Spanish and Basque societies in the effort for peace.

The Conference was closed by Frieda Brepoels and François Alfonsi, who stated once again the willingness of the members of the Friendship to keep working to promote the peace process and the importance of the international community’s support to reach a lasting peace in the Basque Country.

Video footage of the conference is available at: