Why triple referendum in Luxembourg is not what it seems


11333688A triple referendum was held in Luxembourg on 7 June. People were asked three questions: whether they want the 16-year-olds to be given the right to vote in national and European elections and referendums; whether they want foreigners who have lived for more than ten years in the country to be given the right to vote; and whether they want ministers allowed staying continuously in government for no more than ten years. The fourth question on the separation of the Church from the State was dropped in January.

The ruling coalition (DP, the Greens, and the LSAP) and the Left party arranged a “yes” campaign on every question. They were also supported by a number of civil organisations, trade unions and newspapers.

However, the “yes” campaign crashed completely. Only 19% of citizens voted for the lower age, 22% for foreigners’ voting rights and 30% for the ministerial limit.

Worse, it appeared the government failed to get even half of the votes in any of 105 communes across the country. An analysis, based on official results [1] and conducted by Europe Insight, shows the ‘reformers’ did not get even a 40% proportion. Their maximum was 37% on the third question in Kopstal (minimum 18.3% in Wahl). Reinsdorf saw the poorest support for the first two questions (12.9 and 12.7, respectively). The scepticism was higher in the north, near the Belgian and German borders, rather than in the south where Luxembourg borders France.

The referendum also demonstrated that fewer people voted “yes” for the first than for the second question and for the second than for the third. Moreover, the question on foreigners was answered more positively than on the lower age in all but 21 communes.

fb5fc3268155ed7c12eThere was much talk before the referendum that the second question was the most important one. The “yes” campaign vowed for open borders, European integration, and multiculturalism. After the devastating results some observers rushed to stigmatise the referendum. Fabien Grasser from Le Quotidien wrote that it was the “end of a myth” about “multicultural Luxembourg, the most pro-European country in the EU, the country that has integrated foreigners like no other” [2]. Claude Karger from Lëtzebuerger Journal said that it was fear of foreigners that explained the results [3].

These conclusions cannot be accepted. Given that only 21 communes truly stood against foreigners rather than against the lower age, it is hard to think of this question as nationally important and to use fear of foreigners as an explanation to voters’ motives.

After the referendum, the opposition (the CSV and the ADR) that had campaigned against the proposed changes called on the government to resign. They stressed that ministers who were so far from public preferences, would not be able to run the country.

The ruling coalition tried to hold off the criticism. They argued that the referendum was merely a consultation that showed popular attitudes to important issues but it was not a referendum on government’s policies.

The clear division between government and opposition aroused suggestions that the outcome reflected political preferences. However, a Europe Insight’s research based on electoral statistics proves it wrong. “Reformers’ gained poorer support in the communes where the CSV won at the 2013 national and 2014 European elections. But it is also true that their highest numbers were in the communes won by the CSV in the past two years. Apparently, neither party preferences nor anti-immigration sentiments were behind the results of this referendum in Luxembourg.

[1] http://www.elections.public.lu/fr/referendum/2015/resultats/communes/index.html

[2] http://www.lequotidien.lu/la-fin-dun-mythe/

[3] http://www.journal.lu/article/lektionen-1/

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