Local council votes on the creation of all-Northern Basque entity launched

Municipal councils to decide before June 15 whether they support the establishment of a new Basque administrative unit · Non-binding consultation in late 2015 showed wide support for Basque entity among councils

EPCI map as amended in March 2016.
EPCI map as amended in March 2016. Author: Préfet des Pyrénées-Atlantiques
The Northern Basque Country, or Iparralde, could be granted in the coming months its first own, common administrative unit in the history of the French Republic if plans launched in 2015 by prefect of Pyréneés Atlantiques department Pierre-André Durand are validated by a majority of the 158 North Basque municipalities. Durand's proposal would see the current 10 Basque current local associations merged into one single entity.

All North Basque municipal councils are expected to vote on the issue before June 15th. For the plan to go ahead, it is required that an absolute majority of the councils (that is, 80 of them) vote for. Furthermore, those municipalities must have the absolute majority of the Northern Basque population.

Both criteria were fully met in a non-binding consultation that was held among the local councils in late 2015. 112 municipalities voted for, 45 against, and one was undecided. The 112 yes-municipalities represent 65% of the Northern Basque population.

If the new votes show a new yes-majority, the prefect must order the constitution of the new entity, to be called the Intercommunal Cooperation Public Establishment (EPCI) of the Basque Country, before 2016 ends.

EPCI are a type of French administrative structure which bring together municipalities. EPCI are devolved powers related to economic development, urban policy, waste management and water management. However, French law also allows EPCI to exercise additional responsibilities, among which issues related to culture, environment, language and cross-border cooperation.

The creation of an all-Iparralde entity is a historical demand of Basque nationalism. The demand has also been taken up by mayors and councilors belonging to all-French parties.

A map that fits the Iparralde-Bearn "bipolarity"

Durand's plan takes into consideration the geographical, cultural, economic and historical differences existing among the two territories that make up the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, namely the Northern Basque Country in the western half and Bearn in the eastern. "The department is characterised by the [two regions'] bipolarity," the project plan reads, both of them bearing "a strong identity."

The plan foresees one single EPCI for Iparralde, while for Bearn 10 of them are proposed, since the territory is "more divided."

Despite wide support for the plan in the Basque Country, a prominent focus of opposition has emerged in the coastal, densely populated Lower Ador area, where Biarritz, Anglet, Bidart and Boucau mayors are rejecting it. The four mayors, supported by some other municipalities in Basque rural areas, argue the EPCI proposal is not "realistic" since it is not possible to bring together "different territorial realities" in such a short period of time.

The mayors suggest instead that the 10 current local associations be kept under a very lax common body of coordination. Supporters of this proposal say they will try to persuade other local councils of the inconvenience of establishing one single Basque EPCI.