According to the then PSOE spokesman Txiki Benegas, “in the months of 1977, there was a change in the strategy of all parties, including the communist party. The strategy of a democratic break, suggested as a sudden and radical change of the previous regime, turned into a negotiation process of pressure and tension, which was called an agreed democratic break” (Casanova, 2007). Once the referendum regarding the Reform Law had been held, the Suárez government called for general elections in June 1977. The political forces that had accepted the reform (i.e. PSOE, PCE and EAJ-PNV) were legalised, and two new parties were also established representing the state’s centre and right wing: the Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) and the Popular Alliance (AP).

Ahead of the elections, the EAJ-PNV and the PSOE committed themselves to forming an Assembly of Basque Members of Parliament that would present a project of pre-autonomy to be discussed with the members of the central government. After the election, forty-two members of parliament gathered in Gernika, representing among others the EAJ-PNV, the Basque Socialist Party (PSE, Basque section of the PSOE), and some representatives of the UCD; the right-wing representatives of Araba and Navarre did not attend. At the meeting, some objectives were settled: amnesty, the legalisation of political parties and the setting up of a self-government regime for the four Basque provinces. It was also agreed that representatives from the regional assemblies in each of the four Basque provinces would meet in a confederate council to develop a statute of autonomy, to be negotiated with the central government. The main problem occurred with Navarre, where the regional government was controlled by ultra-conservative forces.30

The Spanish government’s ambition to divide the Basque Country by splitting Navarre from the common project was confirmed in the next round of negotiations between the negotiating commission of the Assembly of Basque Members of Parliament and the representatives of the Spanish government. Thus, Xabier Arzalluz, president of the EAJ-PNV, recalled in 1987 that at that
time, the forces in power thought that integrating Navarre into Euskadi (the name given to the Basque Autonomous Community) would have made that territory big enough and would have provided it with the necessary international borders to be able to form an independent Basque state in the future, a scenario the Spanish government wanted to prevent (Aoiz, 2005). The central government pressured PSOE leaders to change their party’s historical position and to support the division of the four provinces, which they finally accepted as part of their attempt to become an alternative to the governing power. As a result, Navarre was split off from the common Basque project.

The patriotic front: Txiberta meetings and the failure of unity

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30 The Spanish right wing opposed integrating Navarre into the Basque statute, with the support of Navarre’s right wing. Members of the UCD of Navarre refused to participate in the project. Disagreeing with that decision, 14 local parties, including the PSOE, sent a document to Adolfo Suárez to condemn the UCD’s attitude and to clarify that those parties representing 60% of the votes considered such an attitude to be a threat to peace and coexistence in Navarre and the rest of the Basque Country.