Luxembourg – EU Parliamentary Elections

Political Background

Luxembourg has long orientated itself towards foreign trade deals and alliances. With Belgium and the Netherlands, Luxembourg founded Benelux in 1944, which could be seen as a precursor of the EU. Luxembourg eagerly joined the EU from its foundation in 1951, and was an eager member of the Euro as well. Indeed, the first official attempt at a single currency, in 1969, was drawn up by a working group headed by the Luxembourg Premier at the time, Pierre Werner and is known as the Werner Plan as a result.

Luxembourg is the second smallest EU country, after Malta, in terms of both population and area.

Luxembourg is officially trilingual, with three official languages – Luxembourgish, French and German. Unusually such languages are not restricted to separate ethno-linguistic groups but rather almost the entire population is uniformly trilingual and uses the three languages in different contexts. Children are taught in all three languages during their education. Laws are all written in French. The press is mostly German language, Luxembourgish is mostly used on TV and the radio and French is used in restaurants.

In addition to these three languages, around 61% of Luxembourgers are fluent in English, and many others are fluent in Dutch and other languages. Multilingualism, in Luxembourg, is a way of life.

Luxembourg’s small size and openness to the world has led to it being the focus of large amounts of inward migration. Over 40% of the resident population is originally from outside Luxembourg and a third of the working population lives outside Luxembourg and commutes in every working day.

Luxembourg was traditionally very reliant on its steel industry, but from the 1970s onwards became much more focused on financial services. Luxembourg’s globalised economy and lifestyle, small size, geographic position and generous bank secrecy laws led to a booming financial services industry and the country becoming amongst the wealthiest in the world in GDP per Capita terms, with only the micro-states of Monaco and Liechtenstein boasting higher scores.

Luxembourg is perhaps the most pro-European country in all of Europe. The country has long supported EU integration, and Luxembourg is home to a few European institutions, including the administrative offices of the European Parliament.

Luxembourg’s politicians have always punched way above their weight in the EU institutions. Two former premiers, Gaston Thorn and Jacques Santer, have served as Presidents of the European Commission. Former premier Pierre Werner is seen as the ‘Grandfather of the Euro’ and the country’s PM until 2013, Jean-Claude Juncker, has long been known to have his eye on an EU job. He was the first President of the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers, a position allegedly created just for him, and this year is the European People’s Party’s nominee for President of the Commission. The country’s current commissioner, Viviane Reding, is a Vice-President of the Commission and holds the powerful Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship brief. She is known to be close to the current President of the Commission, Jose Barroso and is broadly considered to be one of the most powerful European commissioners.

Luxembourg has also deftly promoted itself as a trustworthy intermediary in EU negotiations and successfully promoted the rights of small countries.

Luxembourg public opinion is also the most pro-European in the EU. For instance, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey Luxembourgers say that they are for the Euro by almost 4 to 1, the highest in the EU. 85% of them (once again the highest figure) say they feel like they are citizens of the EU. Additionally Luxembourg, along with Spain, was one of only two countries to approve the European Constitution (famously defeated by referendums in France and the Netherlands) in a public vote. While a higher percentage of Spanish voters favoured the constitution (77% in Spain compared to 57% in Luxembourg), compulsory voting meant that turnout was much higher in Luxembourg (88%, compared to 42% in Spain).

Luxembourg’s domestic politics are notable for being very consensual and incredibly stable. Since the institution of proportional representation and universal suffrage, along with the consolidation of the party system, in 1919 the largest party in every Luxembourg national election has been the Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), or its predecessor, the Party of the Right (PD). The party has only won a majority once, however, in 1921, and so mostly governs with the runner-up party, generally the Socialists, but sometimes the right-leaning and liberal Democratic Party.

The CSV/PD has only been out of power three times, between 1925 and 1926, 1974 and 1979 and from 2013 until the present day.

Getting the CSV out of power requires unlikely alliances between parties that are to its left and right.

The current governing coalition is a three party coalition of the Socialists, Democratic Party and the Greens under the openly gay Democratic Party mayor of Luxembourg City, Xavier Bettel. Together with his deputy PM, the Socialist Etienne Schneider, Bettel represents one half of the world’s first openly gay PM/DPM team.

The impetus behind this coalition was a collective distaste for governing with the CSV, and particularly Juncker, after a parliamentary inquiry had found that Juncker was deficient in his control over and failed to report irregularities in the running of the SREL, Luxembourg’s State Intelligence Service (SREL).

The SREL stood accused of illegal wiretaps, bugging politicians, extrajudicial operations and maintaining files on citizens and politicians.

Electoral System

As one of Europe’s smallest countries, Luxembourg elects the minimum number of MEPs, six.

Luxembourg uses an unusual open-list proportional representation system called panachage to elect its representatives.

In essence, voters have six votes, which they cast for individual candidates. Alternatively they can cast a vote for a party in which case one vote is given to each of a party’s six candidates (around 60% of voters chose to exercise this capability in the 2013 national election).

Voters can cast up to two votes for a single candidate. They can also cast votes across party lines. So, for instance, a voter could, theoretically, cast two votes for their favourite CSV candidate, vote for two separate Socialists, and then vote for one Green candidate and a Democratic Party candidate. More realistic scenarios might be to double up your votes on your three favourite CSV candidates or to cast votes for your four favourite Socialists and your two favourite Greens.

Votes for candidates also count for their party. So if a voter votes for four Socialists and two Greens then that is four votes for the Socialist party and two for the Green party. Parties are assigned seats broadly in proportion to their proportion of the votes cast. Seats are assigned to candidates based on their performance in the personal votes.

Voting is compulsory in Luxembourg, and failure to vote is punishable by fine. Turnout in the 2009 European election was 90.8% in Luxembourg.

2009 Election Result

Party European Political Party Votes Seats
Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) European People’s Party 31.4% 3
Luxembourg Socialist Worker’s Party (LSAP) Socialists and Democrats 19.5% 1
Democratic Party (DP) Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 18.7% 1
The Greens (DG) European Green Party 16.8% 1
Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR) European Conservatives and Reformists 7.4% 0
The Left (DL) European United Left 3.4% 0

Likely results

Polls are very rare in Luxembourg due to the country’s small size and none appear to have happened since the general election of 2013. However, the incredible stability of election results (parties rarely differ more than a couple of points from their prior score from election to election), the small number of seats and compulsory voting suggest that results will not be very dissimilar from the 2013 election result or recent European elections. Both the 2004 and 2009 European elections had the CSV take 3 seats to 1 each for the Socialists, Democratic Party and Greens. Luxembourg is highly unlikely to see a change from this split.