BRUSSELS has narrowly backed Spain’s peace plan with separatist group Eta after a debate in the European parliament.
Politicians voted 321 to 311 in favour of lending support to the government’s drive for dialogue with the Basque group in a debate in the European parliament on October 25.
Supporters of the move say it is important to lend weight to Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s attempts to find peace.
German MEP Martin Schulz, who voted in favour of the planned peace talks, said: “The road towards dialogue is the only way we can bring an end to this spiral of violence.”
Spain’s ruling PSOE party representative in Europe, Enrique Barón, claimed the result of the vote was a victory for democracy and criticised the country’s main opposition party Partido Popular (PP). “I hope the PP does not try to illegitimise today’s decision.”
Conservative MEPs both in Spain and abroad strongly oppose the move, however. They claim dialogue with Eta, which has led a violent campaign for Basque independence from Spain for 45 years, only serves to give publicity to “terrorists.”
PP leader Mariano Rajoy said: “The one true wish of Eta is to take the debate on to the international stage.”
Right-wing group the European People’s Party had earlier urged politicians to vote against the Spanish government’s motion. Leader Hans-Gert Poettering said Eta could not be trusted.
“We may expect they will kill once again,” he told the BBC.
Eta is responsible for the loss of more than 800 lives since it took up arms in 1968 but the group declared a laying down of arms in March this year to lead to the Spanish government’s desire to hold talks with representative’s of the group.
But some have expressed concern over the apparent end to the ceasefire after three men claiming to represent the group announced the continuation of its armed struggle for independence during a rally to commemorate Basque soldiers on September 23.
Basque groups welcomed the result of the vote. A Batasuna spokesman, the political party banned by the Spanish government for its involvement with Eta, said: “This is an historic day. It shows that people are dedicated to the peace process.”
In an earlier debate, MEPS voted 322 to 302 against the PP’s motion that Eta has not made the necessary changes to instigate peace talks.
Meanwhile, there were protests against the debate as hundreds of people demonstrated outside the European Union’s offices in Madrid on October 24.
Organised by the PP and the Association for the Victims of Terrorism, a support group for the families of those killed by Eta and the victims of the Al-Qaeda organised Madrid train bombings in 2004, demonstrators called the debate in Brussels immoral.