THE pro-independence party in the Basque Country is deep in campaigning mode for the second time this year, and if their first victory is anything to go by, they could do well again.

On May 28, EH Bildu became the largest party in the southern Basque Country in terms of both councillors and votes. The party overperformed at the province level, and in the devolved parliament in Navarre.

After the local election and his party’s poor performance at the ballot box, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez surprised everyone in May by calling an early election for July 23.

EH Bildu does hold some power as Sanchez and his first in 80 years two-party coalition government, formed with far-left anti-austerity Unidas Podemos alliance, does not have a parliamentary majority.

READ MORE: Spanish General Election: Catalonia watches and waits

So, as we have seen in the UK - the only way he can pass laws is to corral the votes of smaller parties including EH Bildu. In fact, Sanchez has been recently criticised for his pact with EH Bildu, led by Arnaldo Otegi, who was jailed for crimes by the Eta militant group.

While the party formed with a foundation for Basque independence, voters say they are attracted to the party by things that have nothing to do with Eta, such as health and economic support measures, rent caps, women’s rights and living conditions.

Ahead of the vote this Sunday, Senator Gorka Elejabarrieta Díaz (below), a senator in the Spanish parliament and director of international relations and policy for EH Bildu, spoke to The National. He discussed how the campaign has gone for the candidates so far, the messages being pushed to Spaniards and how Basques who live in Scotland and elsewhere outside the Basque Country can vote ahead of July 23.

The National:

As the continent literally heats up, Elejabarrieta Díaz said it remains to be seen how voters have followed a summer election campaign.

“The campaign is pretty intense for us candidates with several events on every day, be it speeches, rallies, conversations, etc. However, it remains to be seen how people are actually following the campaign," he said.

“Obviously, it’s a very unusual summer campaign, here in the Basque Country many towns have their annual festivities, so engagement is probably lower overall. Having said that, we at EH Bildu are happy with our turnout at rallies, and we find our members and sympathisers engaged and hopeful.”

READ MORE: Will Europe dominated by far-right really welcome Scotland?

Elejabarrieta Díaz said the reasons for their victory ensuring engagement is due to the work on the ground being done by activists. EH Bildu, as seen in the local results, successfully engages on the local level.

“We have often stated, we do as we say, and we say what we do, which is something that has struck a chord for many people. At a time when there is a worrying move away from politics for many people, it seems our fair play and clarity have been rewarded.”

The party has undergone sustained growth almost without exception over the last decade or so – and they use this sentiment in their campaign.

“Our key message is that whenever EH Bildu’s hand has been strengthened, people’s lives have improved,” Elejabarrieta Díaz explained. “This, again, goes for every level of government. This last term in Madrid has seen EH Bildu play a key role in pushing for and supporting progressive legislation.

“At a time when people are feeling the squeeze on their living conditions, with higher and higher prices for basic goods such as energy and food, it is necessary to have policies that support people in their daily lives, at every level, from rent, to public transport, to electricity.

“In addition, EH Bildu is seeking a renewed mandate to continue addressing the outstanding issues derived from the past armed conflict, such as prisoners’ and victims’ rights.

The National:

“Last, but not least, we are being very clear that it is high time we opened up a process that will allow the legitimate aspirations of Basques, Catalans and Galicians to be democratically channelled. This last term was a window of opportunity to move forward on all the above. It must continue.”

EH Bildu supplied support for the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government led by Sanchez at crucial times.

The senator said the party’s mission “is not necessarily to provide stability in Spain” but try to address the “window of opportunity with responsibility and honesty”.

READ MORE: Spain: Pedro Sanchez calls general election after difficult local elections 

“So, for instance, our votes (or abstention, at times) were key in allowing extraordinary health and economic support measures during the pandemic. More recently we have pushed hard for and achieved improvements in pensions and the minimum wage; we are also proud of the law allowing devolved parliaments and town councils to set rent caps.”

The stated aim of far-right parties PP and Vox is to repeal every piece of economic or socially progressive legislation passed in the last term. This is a high-stakes election. EH Bildu have said there is a real possibility of a hard and far-right government in Madrid, following a European pattern.

“There is a true backlash against women's rights under way,” Elejabarrieta Díaz specifically pointed out. “Unbelievable as it may seem, this is what we are facing.”

The Spanish right also intends to curtail the limited autonomy of the devolved state parliaments and threatened to ban pro-independence parties such as EH Bildu or the Catalans.

READ MORE: Council of the EU provides structure for vital issues

A far-right government would mean fewer democratic rights for everyone in Spain and very specially for Basques, says the party.

The party is appealing to the international community to “look closely” at the result in the Basque Country and point out that though the far-right may be strong in Spain, they are a minuscule minority in the region.

“It is extremely important that the stateless nations inside the Spanish state and left-of centre voters in Spain send a clear message.” Elejabarrieta Díaz urged.

He says as Arnaldo Otegi, the main leader of the pro-independence party said the other day, EH Bildu have stated they are only going to Madrid provisionally, until the Basque Country achieve independence.

“Strong electoral results are a necessary condition for progress towards national independence, as we have seen in other contexts, such as Scotland or Ireland. We are committed to using any potential window of opportunity in the Spanish institutions to crack open the 'Regime of '78' which closed down any possibility of constitutional change.”

The party is appealing for Basques living in Scotland and elsewhere outside the Basque Country to vote.

Elejabarrieta Díaz said: “It hasn’t been the easiest of processes and we would encourage everyone to follow EH Bildu on social media and get access to instructions and help.

“A last message for people permanently and temporarily residing outside the Spanish state but who were not registered and couldn’t make it this time, do have a look and see how you could take part in the future. Every vote counts; we did it in May and we’re going to do it again!”