Equally controversial was the attitude of the Zapatero government towards Catalonia’s demands for greater autonomy. The premier, in fact, allowed the presentation to the Congress of the new Statute of Catalonia (previously approved by the local Parliament), which recognized that Autonomous Community wider fiscal and juridical powers, and also sanctioned its right to define itself as “a nation”. A decision strongly contested by the PP and by a part of the military leaders, alarmed by a possible dissolution of national unity. But, after a series of amendments, the new Statute got the favorable vote of the Congress (March 2006) and approval in a referendum held in Catalonia (June). A similar process took place in Andalusia, where a new Statute was drawn up, then approved by Congress in December and confirmed in a regional referendum in February 2007. These positive developments in regional events also partly influenced the Basque question, which, after the breaking of the truce by ETA and the resumption of terrorist attacks (January 2000), had rekindled tensions in the region and throughout the country. Faced with the growing rejection of terrorist violence by the majority of the Basque population, the PVN had decided to loosen ties with the electoral coalition EH ( Euskal Herritarrok , Basque Citizens), formed by various organizations more or less close to ETA, and this in turn had abandoned the support for the regional government directed by the PNV (September 2000). Aznar, for his part, had responded to the ETA attacks with an intensification of the police repression and with the refusal to enter into any negotiations without an interruption of the violence. On the eve of the regional elections of May 2001, the PP and the PSOE had made a political pact, but at the polls the PNV, allied with the EA ( Eusko Alkartasuna , Basque solidarity). In October, the president of the regional government, JJ Ibarretxe, announced a referendum on self-determination of the Basque provinces if ETA continued with the terrorist attacks and the Madrid government refused any dialogue. Aznar had criticized this project as unconstitutional. During 2002 the attacks and police operations continued. The Spanish Parliament had requested the outlawing of Batasuna (Unity, the new name of Herri Batasuna since 2001, Unity of the People, a supporter of the ETA party which is part of EH), which was then decreed by the Supreme Court (March 2003). In September 2003Ibarretxe had presented a plan for a “free association” of the Basque provinces to the South., with the creation of a separate educational and judicial system and the recognition of the right to autonomous international relations. A strongly criticized project, not only in Madrid but also in the Basque provinces themselves. After the socialist electoral victory in March 2004, ETA tried to open a dialogue with the new government, but Zapatero rejected the offer.
In December 2004 the Basque Parliament approved the Ibarretxe plan, rejected however as unconstitutional by PSOE and PP. Congress had rejected the proposal to organize a referendum in the Basque provinces (February 2005) and Ibarretxe had decided to call new regional elections for April 2005. At the polls, the PNV had registered a decline in support, which revealed the absence of broad support for the Ibarretxe plan. In May, however, Congress passed a motion authorizing the government to negotiate with ETA if ETA declared a truce. A decision highly contested by the PP, which is opposed to any dialogue with terrorists. In the face of government openings and developments in negotiations on the new Statute of Catalonia, ETA announced in March 2006 a “permanent truce” and the intention to find a peaceful agreement. In December, however, the Basque terrorists claimed responsibility for an attack on Madrid’s Barajas airport (two dead, over 25 injured), and the government decided to stop the negotiations.
As far as foreign policy is concerned, in the early years of the new century the Spain oscillated between different and contrasting strategies. At first, during the Aznar government, he approached, as mentioned, the positions of the United States and Great Britain. Then, after the return to power of the Socialists, he quickly moved away from it to strengthen relations with France and Germany, traditional interlocutors of Spanish diplomacy. there is no doubt, in any case, that the country’s economic and social progress strengthened the international profile of the Spain, which proved capable of playing an increasingly important role within the European Union and NATO. In this regard, the participation in the establishment of the rapid reaction force of the EU, the sending of soldiers to the
The dispute with Great Britain over Gibraltar remained unresolved: between 2001 and 2002 the two countries intensified negotiations to seek an agreed solution, but the decision of the local authorities to hold a referendum, which almost unanimously rejected the hypothesis of a passage of the territory to the South., froze the negotiations (November 2002). Equally difficult remained relations with Morocco on the question of the Spanish possessions of Ceuta and Mellila, a dispute also conditioned by the problem of controlling illegal immigration.