Freedom in the World
Luxembourg’s governing coalition agreed in June 2011 to loosen provisions of the country’s strict abortion laws, a measure that was being finalized at year’s end. Meanwhile, the country struggled to adequately process and house a growing number of asylum applicants.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was established in 1815 after the Napoleonic wars. Following a brief merger with Belgium, it acquired its current borders in 1839. The country was occupied by Germany during both world wars, and it abandoned neutrality to join NATO in 1949. Luxembourg became a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, a precursor to the European Union (EU); it adopted the euro currency in 1999.
The center-right Democratic Party (DP) performed poorly in June 2004 general elections, allowing the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party of Luxembourg (LSAP) to replace the DP as the junior coalition partner of Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s Christian Social Party (CSV).
In the June 2009 parliamentary elections, the CSV captured 26 seats, while the LSAP took 13 seats, and the DP won 9 seats; three other parties won the remaining 12 seats. Juncker remained prime minister for the 15th consecutive year—the longest tenure of any EU head of government—and formed a coalition government with the LSAP in July.
Luxembourg has been criticized for its bank secrecy rules and was placed on the Organization for Economic Cooperation’s (OECD) tax-haven grey list in 2009. Luxembourg signed several agreements regarding the sharing of tax information and was removed from the list by the end of the year.
The budget deficit rose from just 0.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to a high of 2.2 percent in 2010. Proposed austerity measures generated tension within the governing coalition and sparked strikes in the publically-funded healthcare system in 2010. In 2011, the government introduced austerity measures intended to increase competitiveness. In December, after failed negotiations with unions, the government unilaterally reduced the frequency of automatic inflation-based wage increases, a controversial move that contradicted previous practices of consensus-building. Further reforms were planned for 2012.
Luxembourg is an electoral democracy. The head of state is the unelected Grand Duke Henri, whose powers are largely ceremonial. The unicameral legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, consists of 60 members elected by proportional representation to five-year terms. The legislature chooses the prime minister. Voting is compulsory for Luxembourg’s citizens. Citizens of EU countries may vote in local and European elections in Luxembourg after six years’ residency but are not required to do so; residents from non-EU countries may not vote. Foreigners constitute over a third of Luxembourg’s population.
The political system is open to the rise of new parties. There are three traditionally strong parties: the CSV, historically aligned with the Catholic Church; the LSAP, a formerly radical but now center-left party representing the working class; and the DP, which favors free-market economic policies.
The government is largely free from corruption. In February 2011, Luxembourg adopted regulations implementing the OECD Anti-Corruption Convention; in June, the OECD called on Luxembourg to strengthen its enforcement of the new laws. Luxembourg was ranked 11 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution, and Luxembourg maintains a vibrant media environment. A single conglomerate, Radio Télévision Luxembourg, dominates broadcast radio and television. Newspapers generally represent a broad range of opinion. Internet access is not restricted.
Although Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, there is no state religion, and the state pays the salaries of clergy from a variety of Christian sects; Islamic clergy are not supported. In June 2011, the parliament debated cutting or reducing funding for clergy, removing religious celebrations from Luxembourg’s national holidays, and inserting ethics education in schools in place of religion. School children may choose to study either the Roman Catholic religion or ethics; most choose the former. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are protected, and nongovernmental organizations operate freely. Luxembourgers may organize in trade unions, and approximately 40 percent of the workforce is unionized. The right to strike is constitutionally guaranteed. Several unions held protests in September 2010 after the government announced austerity reforms to the child and educational subsidy policy.
The judiciary is independent, though judges are still appointed by the grand duke. Detainees are treated humanely in police stations and prisons. However, in January 2011, prosecutors filed a complaint against prison staff at Schrassig prison alleging that searches of prisoners and visitors were degrading and invasive. Overcrowding has been reported at Schrassig prison, and an April 2011 inspection was critical of prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners. Two minors were held at Schrassig prison for two weeks in November, prompting debate on the treatment of child offenders.
Luxembourg’s Muslim minority, mainly of Bosnian origin, faces no official hostility. The government passed a law in January 2011 that increased penalties for hate speech. Asylum claims in Luxembourg have more than doubled since 2010, overburdening government agencies and fostering resentment in some communities; a new detention center for rejected asylum seekers opened in August 2011. In September 2011, 30 Iraqi asylum seekers went on a hunger strike protesting processing times for asylum applications that average 18 months.
Women comprise nearly 50 percent of the labor force, and the gap between men’s and women’s wages is about 15 percent. Women are underrepresented at the highest levels of government; 12 women currently serve in the 60-member parliament, and only 4 hold seats in the 15-member cabinet.
While the law does not technically allow for abortion on demand, women can legally have abortions if in “distress.” In June 2011, the coalition parties broadly agreed on legislation that would allow abortions in a greater number of cases while maintaining current penalties for unapproved abortions; finalization of the measure was ongoing at year’s end. Luxembourg’s Consultative Committee on Human Rights has expressed concerns regarding several provisions, including a residency restriction requiring women to have lived in Luxembourg for at least three months before obtaining an abortion.
In March 2011, two Romanian men were arrested for human trafficking and involvement in prostitution, and in July, four individuals were arrested and charged with running a human trafficking and prostitution ring in Luxembourg from Eastern Europe since 2007.