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Basque leader calls snap election ahead of budget talks with Spanish government

FILE PHOTO: Basque premier Inigo Urkullu delivers a speech at the Palacio Euskalduna following the announcement by armed Basque separatists ETA of their full dissolution, in Bilbao, Spain, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent West

MADRID (Reuters) - The head of the Spanish Basque region on Monday called a snap election in the autonomous community on April 5 to strengthen the hand of the regional authorities during budget negotiations with the central government.

Inigo Urkullu, whose nationalist party PNV is a crucial ally of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, expects early elections will allow local legislators to pick new leaders with full legitimacy by the summer.

“This way, they will be able to approve the orientations of the 2021 budget in a position with more certainty and stability,” Urkullu told a news conference in Vitoria-Gasteiz on Monday.

Urkullu declined to say whether he will seek another term as Lehendakari, as the head of the region is called in the Basque language. Elections were originally scheduled in October 2020.

The Sanchez government, which lacks an absolute majority in the Parliament, depends on the PNV to get its budget passed.

At the same time, a PNV-led administration in the Basque country will increase its financial demands to the Central government. The main demands include more funds and increased autonomy.

The Spanish budget deficit has consistently fallen over the past few years to the equivalent of 2% of gross domestic product in 2019. Costly promises made by Sanchez’s left-wing partners may affect the recent trend.

Reporting by Belen Carreno in Madrid; Writing by Inti Landauro; Editing by Matthew Lewis