Statute of Autonomy 1979


  • TYPE OF TEXT: Primary source. As a regards the form, as it is a law; it is a legal text. In the content it is political text.
  • AUTHOR: Collective author, the representatives of the Basque General Council, a pre-autonomous institution whose objective was to negotiate the competences of the pre-autonomous government. The statute was drafted by the PNV, PSOE, among other forces, approved by the Spanish Cortes and sanctioned by the King of Spain (Juan Carlos I) and signed by the President of the government (Adolfo Suárez).
ADDRESSEE: Being a law, it is addressed to all citizens of the Basque Country, therefore, it is a public text.
  • OBJECTIVE: Being one of the fundamental laws of the Basque Country, its main objective is culminate the process of the Basque people's desire for self-government as enshrined in the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and on the basis of the 1936 statute of autonomy abrogated during Francoism.
  • LOCATION AND DATE: Royal Palace, Madrid, 18 December 1979. The statute was drafted in December 1978. With regard to the date of publication, we are in the period of the Spanish transition, after Franco's death in 1975. The transition was a period of creation of a democratic regime, based on agreements and without violence. Likewise, this process gave rise to the demand for autonomy, especially in the Basque Country and Catalonia.
The central theme of the text is summarized in the same title: "Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country".
The Constitution of 1978 organizes Spain in Autonomies. Based on this, the Community of Euskadi or Basque Country was erected.
The first article indicates that the Basque People recognize the existence of different peoples within Spain. This first article, because of its content, seems fundamental to us in order to understand the problems that will arise later, since it includes many things that are not of a clear meaning: "Basque people", "Euskal Herria", "Basque Country", "nationality", "Spanish State"... Perhaps the rush for its approval is at the bottom of all these indefinitions.
Article 2 refers to the territories that have the right to form part of the Basque Autonomous Community: Álava, Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Navarra (a situation that provoked the anger of the people of Navarre). However, according to the second section of this article, they do not do so in the same way. The first three belong directly to the Basque Autonomous Community. Navarre will have to decide this in accordance with the provisions of the fourth transitory provision of the Constitution (referendum and approval by the Cortes). As we can see, another problem remained unresolved.
Article 3 states that each of the territories may preserve or modify its own institutions. As we well know, during the Ancient Regime there were Juntas Generales in each territory and the Diputaciones. Here, nothing is done other than to make their permanence possible.
The treatment of Euskera is similar to that of the first Statute. It must be considered an official language and the inhabitants of Euskadi have the right to know and use both languages. The reason for this fact is stated in article 6: "it is the language of the Basque People".
Article 17.1 authorizes the Basque Government to set up the Autonomous Police Force, clearly indicating its competences. In this sense they are reduced to the autonomous territory itself.
The Additional Provision reflects a nationalist longing that is difficult to interpret. It refers to the non renouncement of "historical rights that may correspond to it". The formula is so extremely vague that it satisfies everyone but does not imply anything concrete.
The historical context in which the Basque Statute was approved was that of the Transition (1975-1982).
It was done after the establishment of democracy, which was largely due to the collapse of Franco's regime when he died in 1975. 
Adolfo Suárez was a key figure in this period, as he knew and was right about the need for changes that would transform Spain into a democratic country. Even from the point of view of having to control those who thought that it was necessary to continue with a dictatorial regime.
Among these changes, Adolfo Suarez made a Political Reform Law (1976) and a referendum. It was clearly established that a democracy, fiscal amnesty law, freedom of expression, strike, etc. was desired. Therefore, a free referendum was held (not manipulated, as Franco did).
Therefore, Adolfo Suarez in 1977 would call general elections, the first democratic since the 2nd Republic to fully establish democracy in Spain and achieve a fully democratic Parliament. The result for the central government was the victory of the coalition recently created by Suárez (liberals, social democrats, Christian Democrats, ex-Francoists, etc.) the UCD, with Suárez as leader of this central political party. However, the PSOE would also have good results. On the contrary, intellectual property, which was the right wing of the Fraga party, along with the Communist Party, failed to obtain favorable results. 
In the Basque Country, it was the nationalist party PNV who obtained an overwhelming majority.
With the victory of the UCD, Adolfo Suarez began to draw a new Constitution, which was a framework that would allow the existence of autonomous entities. This new constitution is known as the 1978 Constitution, which would recognize the drafting of autonomy statutes. 
Autonomies that can be created for three main reasons. Among them not all had the same yearnings for autonomy; the historical one, we have the example of Catalonia and the Basque Country, like the Fueros. Provinces that have a similar economic interest can unite to create autonomies. Other reasons why it may be geographical. For example, the islands belonging to Spain. Or linguistic reasons.
Present moment
After the general elections of 1977, the Assembly of Basque Parliamentarians was formed in Gernika. The UCD created the Basque General Council as a pre-autonomous institution which could be joined by deputies elected in Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Alava and Navarre. The aim was to negotiate the competences of the pre-autonomous government, which only gave it a symbolic character, in comparison with the Basque people's desire for self-government.
At the end of 1978, the Basque General Council  approached the elaboration of the draft statute, drafted specifically by PNV, PSOE and other forces.

Facing the Basque General Council, KAS (Koordinadora Abertzale Sozialista) had the protection of ETA and put forward their alternatives, based on radical rupture and self-determination. Since 1978, the base of the most radical electorate in favour of nationalism will be located around HB.

The block in favour of the statute (PNV, UCD, PSOE, EIA, ESEI, PTE, ELA-STV, UGT, CCOO) requested the favorable vote and the exceptions, for various reasons, were AP (against) and HB (abstention). The PNV asked for the vote in favour because it considered that it was a valid instrument for the construction of the Basque nation.

The Statute of Gernika was approved (1979). Later, in Vitoria, the majority of Basque municipalities ratified it, and after approving them in the Cortes, on 25 October 1979 it received the approval of the citizens in a referendum.

Structure of the Gernika Statute: The Statute of Gernika is quite similar to that which was in force during the civil war. Euskadi would become a nationality, composed of an autonomous community within the Spanish state. A series of discussions arose: the possibility of Navarre joining the Basque Autonomous Community, public order and the rights regarding education, the autonomous Treasury, or the rights established through the Economic Agreement.


Thus, the Basque Country would become an autonomous community, separate from Navarre, which would possess levels of self-government not contemplated until then. However, the referendum campaign only polarised political positions and the high percentage of rejection of the referendum indicated the profound division and pluralism of Basque society.

Acceptance of the Statute meant the creation of autonomous Basque institutions, such as the Basque Government.

In the first elections after the approval of the statute (March 1980) the PNV won and Carlos Garaikoetxea was appointed lehendakari. At the same time the Juntas Generales of the historical territories and the economic agreements of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, eliminated during the Franco regime, were reinstated.


The nationalist demand for a Statute first took shape in 1936 with the arrival of the Popular Front and the beginning of the Civil War. However, Franco’s victory repealed the Statute.

With Franco’s death and in full democratic transition, the current Spanish Constitution was approved. The conception of Spain as a State of Autonomies made it possible to draft and approve the Basque Statute in 1979.

Once ratified by both the king and the central government, the Basque Statute 1979 came into force. In fact, it is the current rule.

The transfers reflected in it have been made little by little, such as: the faculties in Education, Health Service, and the collection of taxes that are now the quotas of the Basque Government, and others are still pending.

In the period when the Basque Statute was made, the PNV was the first party in the Basque Country. Other existing political parties, radical nationalism, around HB , considered that this statute was not enough.