When the rule of the people returned to Spain, the Basque Country and its political leaders moved quickly and achieved a unique arrangement with the Central Spanish government in Madrid, The Statute of Autonomy of 1979. This form of government could only be possible because it is rooted in their independent culture and accounts for a large part of their success. It basically lets the Basque operate as a semi-autonomous region within the Spanish state.
Two key policies result from this status. First, the Basque levy their own taxes; second, they decide how to spend them, just paying a quota of approximately 6% every five years to the central government for federal services provided (customs, defense, etc.). Since the implementation of the Statute of Autonomy, the Basque have proven that their rational approach to self-determination and government has worked.
They have focused on identity, innovation and sustainable human development with spectacular results, including the transformation of Bilbao from an industrial city in crisis to the home of the “Guggenheim effect”. The Basque have a per capita income of approximately 30,000 EUR, 30% above the EU average. In comparison to the unemployment rate of 25% for the rest of Spain, the Basque country is doing much better with just 12% unemployment.
With this track record, we should consider if their decentralized form of government and focus on local needs is the best way to best manage a nation’s or a state’s resources.
It has worked for many centuries for the Basque country, so much so that John Adams wrote in 1787 about them that “this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government and manners longer than any other nation of Europe”—a lesson about which he thought deeply as he worked on the U.S. Constitution.
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