Madrid (AFP) - The head of Spain's Basque Country said Sunday he wants to a hold a "legal consultation" on the northern region's future within Spain, as Catalonia voted in a regional election centred on independence.
"I believe in the possibility of a legal and negotiated consultation," Basque Country premier Inigo Urkullu told a rally of his Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) in the town of Foronda.
"We need a new political statute for Euskadi," he added, using the Basque name for the hilly region of just over two million people bordering France.
"We are a nation, we are the Basque people, we are European citizens, with freedoms and historical rights, we have a language, a culture."
His comments came as Catalonia, one of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions, held a regional election framed as a proxy vote on secession.
Catalan nationalists have vowed to launch a roadmap towards a declaration of independence by 2017 if they win the election.
Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has refused to allow an official independence referendum like the one held in Scotland last year which resulted in a 'no' vote for secession from the United Kingdom.
He argues it would violate the Spanish constitution's stipulation that only the national government can call referendums on sovereignty, and that all Spaniards are entitled to vote in such a ballot.
Like Catalonia, the Basque County has its own distinct language and culture and it has long sought greater powers for itself, especially in areas such as taxation, education and policing.
For four decades the armed Basque separatist group ETA fought a bloody campaign for an independent Basque homeland in the area populated by Basque speakers in northern Spain and southwest France. The unrest is blamed for the deaths of 839 people.
In 2011 the group, which has been weakened by a string of arrests and dwindling popular support for its violent tactics, announced an end to violence.
But ETA has so far refused to disband or disarm as demanded by the Spanish and French governments.