The Basque Country is an autonomous community in northern Spain. It was granted the status of historical region within Spain with the Spanish Constitution of 1978. The capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz.
The autonomous community of the Basque Country should not be confused with the larger historical Basque territory of which it is a component part.
Spanish and Basque are co-official in all territories of the Community.
A 1984 language census showed that of the 2.1 million people in the Autonomous Region, 23 percent could understand Basque, 21 percent could speak it, but only 13 percent could read the language and only 10 percent could write it.
Before the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and its system of autonomous communities, these three provinces were known in Spanish as the Provincias Vascongadas. The political structure of the autonomous communities is defined in the Gernika Statute, which was approved by a majority in a referendum held on 25 October 1979. Nowadays it is one of the most decentralized regions in the world; in this regard it has been quoted as having "more autonomy than just about any other in Europe" by The Economist.
In 2003, the governing Basque Nationalist Party proposed to alter this statute through the Ibarretxe Plan. The project, though approved by majority in the Basque chamber, was finally rejected by a large majority in the Madrid Cortes Generales on the grounds that it contradicts the Spanish Constitution.
In this regard, Basque nationalists cite the fact that in the 1978 Spanish Constitution referendum, which was passed with a majority of votes in the Basque Country, the Basque Country had the highest abstention (the Basque Nationalist Party had endorsed abstention on the grounds that the Constitution was being forced upon them without any Basque input). To this, the "no" vote in this referendum was also higher in the Basque Country than in the rest of the state. All in all, many Basques believe that they are not bound to a constitution that they never endorsed.
The Basque Autonomous Community is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain, with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita being 20.6% higher than that of the European Union average in 2004, at $30,680 USD.
Industrial activities were traditionally centered on steel and shipbuilding, mainly due to the rich iron ore resources found during the 19th century around Bilbao. The Estuary of Bilbao was the center of the Basque Country's industrial revolution during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. These activities decayed during the economic crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, giving ground for the development of the services sector and new technologies.
Today, the strongest industrial sectors of the Basque Country's economy are machine tool, present in the valleys of Biscay and Gipuzkoa, aeronautics in Vitoria-Gasteiz and energy, in Bilbao.
The main companies in the Basque Country are: BBVA bank, Iberdrola energy company,(both of them have their headquarters in Bilbao) Mondragón Cooperative Corporation that is the largest cooperative in the world, Gamesa aeronautics and wind turbine producer and CAF rolling stock producer.
Map of Basque Country: