Below, the authors explore models among various EU instruments for cross-border cooperation with potential application to the Basque Country. Cross-border EU policy is not aimed at resolution of ethnic conflicts, but to regional socio¬economic development. But Basque nationalists see a potential nation-building function in some cross-border EU cooperative tools applicable to their case. Of course, any EU engagement is dependent on a major shift in attitude from Spain and France.
Potential EU cross-border instruments include ‘communities of collaboration’ and the ‘Euro-regions’. Both of these relate to relations between provincial administrative units in different but neighbouring EU member states, and refer to a common cultural, linguistic or historical identity as the basis for building economic or social relations. These structures now sit within a new European legal framework established in 2007, the European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), which is intended to promote cross-border, transnational and inter¬regional cooperation among regional and local authorities from different EU member states, in order to deliver joint services.
EU cross-border and inter-regional cooperation programmes are designed to help resolve problems among adjacent communities across borders that are deemed ‘neutral’. So their application to the Basque instance appears limited. They do not carry any political power and cannot generate new administrative entities. Managing these instruments requires the involvement of governments as well as local and provincial authorities, and there is little chance that the will of constituted states will bow to the aspirations of stateless nations to grant them recognition. Also the institution of Euro-regions has been interpreted very differently in different cases.
Euro-regions and similar structures proposed within the legal framework of EGTC are, on paper at least, capable of preparing, implementing and managing cross-border community programmes within the EU. Cross-border activities developed by local and provincial authorities are seen as important, since by using scarce economic resources they generate added value.
The establishment of the EGTC for the first time provides a legal framework for cross-border, inter-regional and transnational cooperation. It can act to implement cross-border cooperation programmes and can legally recognise authorities and public entities established under it. The advantage of the EGTC over previous instruments is that it can increase both the degree of responsibility for cooperative entities, and the demand for financial transparency concerning the management of common resources. But from a Basque nationalist perspective, a key question is whether EU instruments can move beyond economic development into the political sphere, and so contribute to resolving the Basque issue – and in particular its cross-border components.
Some Basque nationalists have been looking to the EU PEACE programmes which have been used to support state and inter¬state conflict resolution policies for Northern Ireland. Through directly-invested funds, the PEACE programmes have sought to foster renewed economic activity, local development and regeneration strategies in borderland communities, as well as cross-border cooperation and social reconciliation throughout Irish territory. In September 2010 PNV made statements in Brussels (notably to the European Democratic Party) about the introduction of a ‘PEACE Euskadi’ programme. Although underdevelopment has not been a major problem in the Basque regions, which are an industrial zone, some in the region have been concerned with the implications of the economic and financial crisis since 2008.
The application of EU inter-regional or cross-border cooperation instruments have yet to be engaged in resolving the Basque conflict. But the Irish case suggests their broader conflict resolution applicability to help resolve cross-border disputes. European institutional instruments cannot override the will of powerful member states, and in the Basque case they do not define Spanish and French political positions. Nevertheless, they could serve to enhance steps being taken by Basque nationalist movements to resolve once and for all the political and armed conflict that has held the life of this small European nation in its grip for decades.