Government in Spain proposes talks with ETA

After what has possibly been the bitterest week so far in Spanish politics with the split between Spain’s two major political parties becoming wider and wider everytime a member from either party opens his or her mouth, Spanish members of parliament are expected to vote today in favor of the Socialist government’s proposal to start talks with ETA if the Basque terrorist group agrees to drop all violent activity.

Last week was Spain’s yearly Debate of the Nation, during which the President of Spain explains his government’s policies and answers questions put to him by all parties for two days. After a series of bitter exchanges on the first day of the debate, during which the leader of the opposition party, Mariano Rajoy, accused the Socialist party of betraying the victims of ETA, the Popular Party formally withdrew its support from the anti-terrorism pact which has existed between Spain’s two major parties for the past few years. The style of Rajoy during the debate was so reminiscent of that of ex-President Aznar that at one moment during one of his answers, President Rodriguez Zapatero referred to the PP leader as “Señor Aznar” by mistake.

According to a poll published yesterday by Cadena Ser, and despite frequent blunders made by this inexperienced government, Spaniards continue to prefer the moderation and messages of respect for political opponents and consensus of Zapatero to the often ruthlessly agressive style of the leaders of the opposition, and the the Spanish President’s popularity has risen higher as a result of last weeks debate.

This is going to be a very complicated year for the Spanish government which needs the support of the Popular Party in order to fulfill one of its most controversial electoral promises: modification of the Spanish Constitution.

Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to inform all parties of any meetings with Basque separatists and if, as expected, the Spanish congress approves the government’s motion to offer dialogue to ETA if the terrorists drop their weapons, the rift between the parties will probably become even wider (members of the Popular Party are the only representatives expected to vote against the motion).

For the results of any future negotiations between the Spanish government and Basque separatists to have any real meaning, Spain’s main political parties will need to show a united front. However, relations between the two parties are at an all-time low, and it is difficult to see just how (or if) they will get out of the present rut.

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