As Basque voters head to the polls on 25 September, the Basque National Party (PNV) – the region's current ruling party – hopes gains in elections could pave the way to an eventual deal with Madrid and a referendum after 2020.
Sitting in the Basque National Party's headquarters in Bilbao, Mikel Burzako – the party's director of coordination – believes the polls look favourable. "I do think we are in the strongest position for the elections. All the polls and the polls we have been doing this year show us that the Basque National Party is in the leading position," he told IBTimes UK.
"This, I think, is because we have been able to get the central position in the Basque country, showing stability in how we are managing the country," he added. The PNV, the oldest and largest Basque national party – with roots predating the Spanish Civil War – has been the natural party of governance in the region since devolution in the early 1980s.
Stability is at a premium in Spain in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis. The country's two-party system, the political status quo in since the fall of General Franco, has broken down with the emergence of the leftist Podemos movement and the Ciudadanos party – a centre-left party founded in Catalonia.
The largest party in the national congress, the conservative Partido Popular, has failed to form a government since national elections December 2015, despite a re-run in June, in the face of a hung result. The political paralysis in Madrid is to the benefit of the Basque nationalists, as the Basque country, with a more robust economy suffers by its association with the rest of Spain.
"The situation in Spain and the blockage affects us a lot because the Basque country is part of the territory of Spain we have a very bad reputation economically," Burzako said.
"In general it affects our economy and, politically, it will have its effect on the next election at the end of September and maybe with not very good results for the Spanish political parties in the Basque parliament," he added
The electoral maths may also work in the favour of the Basque nationalists. The party expects the Basque region's pro-independence, left-wing EH Bildu coalition to outperform Podemos in the elections after the latter failed to make gains in a second round of national elections in June.
While they disagree fundamentally on economic issues, Bildu and the PNV have worked together to pass legislation in the last parliament and while a broad coalition is preferable, the nationalists believe they could work together to deliver independence.
"What we see in the next four years in the next parliament is that and what we are proposing politically is to get an agreement – if it is with the five political parties it is better than with four or better than with two," Burzako said.
"I think the results if they are similar to the ones we have seen in the polls there can be an agreement between the Basque National Party, Podemos and Bildu in terms of the Basque country being recognised as a nation," he added.
The Basque National Party believes a referendum deal can be seriously considered by the end of the next parliament in 2020. "Once this political agreement or any political agreement can be done in the parliament, in the second step the Basque government must agree with the parliament in Madrid about how to do it, and maybe in four years this is a lot," Burzako said.
"One feels like the longterm view and maybe another questions is what are your goals in 2020?" he asked.
Ultimately the VPN wants to achieve an independent Basque Country but wants to take society with it. "Obviously as the Basque national party one of our main goals is to have out own nation that obviously is going to be Basque but we are conscious of what the society would like and what are the priorities for our society," Burzako said.