Here´s a fresh twist in the tale of this beautiful, tragically vexed country:
The Prime Minister of the Basque Autonomous Community, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, nurtures radical plans to wrest further autonomy for his region. (Basque Plans)
The Spanish PM, Zapatero, calls his plans - which are supported by a small majority in the Basque parliament - unconstitutional.
The very future of Spain is at stake. Both men know full well that the natural tendency of federations is to disintegrate. And that the more federal a country becomes, the stronger will be this inbuilt urge to disperse.
Now there´s no way will Spain become less federal - the momentum powering regional autonomies, not just in the Basque region, is too strong. And no way, come to that, will Zapatero allow Spain to become more federal - as his deputy said today, as long as Zapatero is in office, the plans will "never be approved and therefore will never be applied."
Basque voters are equally split: according to the latest polls, a third support more autonomy, another third reject it, with the final third undecided either way.
For the moment, therefore , it looks like deadlock. Ibarretxe and his Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), is holding out for a regional referendum on the matter, a referendum which Zapatero, in his turn, will reject. The ETA separatist movement may resume terrorist activity.
The EU is watching developments intently. It already conducts trade and fishing negotiations with key Spanish regions on a separate basis, sidelining the national government. Similar anomalies exist in Cataluna, Galicia and the Canary Islands. A weak and tottering Spanish state offers the EU the opportunity to strengthen its strategic rule over the Spanish regions.
Divide and rule may pay dividends in abstract theory, but this Spanish powder-keg may go off with a destructive force that profits nobody.