As I'm sure most people who read Syniadau will know, the Euskal Herria comprises seven provinces split between Spain and France. The four provinces under Spanish sovereignty enjoy a significant degree of autonomy. Three of them—Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba—form the Basque Autonomous Community, and the fourth—Nafarroa—is an Autonomous Community in its own right. But France is a much more centralized state, and the three Basque provinces under French sovereignty—Lapurdi, Zuberoa and Nafarroa Beherea—were subsumed into the larger Basses-Pyrénées Départment (now Pyrénées-Atlantiques) immediately after the French revolution and have had no specific political identity for the past two hundred years.
Needless to say, the Basques have been pressing for change for some time, but things now seem to have come to a head. The reason for this is that François Hollande had made the promise of a further (a third) Act of Decentralization one of the main planks of his election campaign.
There's a good explanatory article here. The aim is effectively to create a new regional authority with responsibility for housing, public transport, agriculture, tourism, economy, culture, the Basque language Euskara, and cross-border cooperation. A large rally is being held today in Bayonne in support of this, including:
Political parties of all colours (including representatives of the Socialist Party and UMP), unions, and hundreds of social and business leaders, among others. In addition, 103 of the 158 mayors have supported the Northern Basque Country's territorial claim.
The Territorial Coordinator stressed that the agreement reached in Iparralde Euskal Herria is historical: "There has never been such widespread agreement about the territorial collectivity. This initiative has been pondered and worked for a long time and reflects the political sensitivities and the diversity of the different sectors of society."
But even with such widespread support, there is going to be some resistance from within the French Government. The Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, said this on Thursday:
"I can tell you with the utmost clarity that neither a Basque department or a local authority are on the agenda of the government," said Mr. Valls in response to a question on this point at a press conference in Salles (Gironde), where he participated in a meeting on forest fires in the Landes.
"There may be proposals, events, forums, but these proposals have meaning only if they are within the laws of the Republic and under the constitution," he added.
Well, that's the whole point of mass movements and political lobbying, isn't it? It will happen if there is enough political support to get it through the National Assembly, and the fact that people from both the Parti Socialiste and UMP support it is surely a hopeful sign. There is absolutely no constitutional reason why there shouldn't be a referendum on the issue. In April this year there was a referendum on the proposed merger of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin to create a similar Alsace Regional Authority ... though it was defeated, as reported here.
This map is from the Greens' (EELV) website, showing how they would like to see regional reorganization in France. As well as the split of Pyrénées-Atlantiques into Pays Basques and Béarn, Loire-Atlantique would be reunited with the other four Breton départments (another long-standing demand which has been given renewed momentum by Acte III de la décentralisation, as reported here) and Normandy would also be reunited.
Devolution in what has until now been one of the most highly centralized states in Europe might well turn out to be François Hollande's greatest legacy.