Luxembourg makes voting easier for foreign residents

From next year voting in municipal elections will become easier for foreign nationals who live in Luxembourg.

All residents will be allowed to vote in local elections as soon as they arrive in the country instead of waiting for 5 years, under government plans announced on September 2nd.

“All citizens must be able to participate in municipal elections, regardless of their nationality and length of residence,” the government said in a statement.

With the proposed change, “people get the right to vote as soon as they arrive in their commune. They can immediately participate in political life and they can integrate more easily by taking an interest in the political decisions that affect their lives,” said Minister of Family and Integration Corinne Cahen.

Home Affairs Minister Taina Bofferding added: “The municipalities are the heart of our democracy. Decisions made on this level directly affect our citizens, and consequences are felt in everyday life. Therefore, we must enable our entire population to participate in municipal elections and become active in local politics”.

According to data published by the Ministry of Family and Integration and the Center for Intercultural and Social Studies and Training (CEFIS), 75,226 people were excluded from the 2017 local elections because they had lived in the Grand Duchy for less than 5 years.

The coalition government formed by the Democratic Party, the Greens and the Social Democrats vowed to look at ways to increase participation of foreign residents.

As part of the plan, the executive will extend the deadline by which they have to register in the electoral roll. The registration will have to be completed by the 55th (instead of the 87th) day before the vote, ministers announced.

In addition, the government will introduce an accelerated appeal procedure for people who do not succeed with the registration. The administrative court will have to rule on the matter within 10 days, instead of the current 21.

“Our ultimate goal remains to include our non-Luxembourg citizens in the democratic process, because we consider the right to vote to be an essential factor of integration,” said Justice Minister Sam Tanson. Parliament will have to approve the new rules.

Requirements to exercise political rights

Luxembourg elects mayors and councilors every six years.

At present, non-Luxembourgers have to be domiciled in the Grand Duchy and have resided there for at least five years, including the 12 months before the election, to be allowed to vote.

Foreign residents can also stand as candidates in municipal elections (until 2011 this was possible only for EU citizens). This also requires 5 years of residence, including 12 uninterrupted months preceding the candidacy, and 6 months in the relevant municipality. This is not expected to change.

Minister Bofferding announced municipal elections next year will be brought forward to June 11, as in October there will be legislative elections.

The problem of participation

According to the EU statistical office Eurostat, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is the EU country with the largest non-national population, 48% of 626,000 residents. In 2019 the largest share of foreign citizens (91%) was from other EU member states.

In all, 134 nationalities registered to vote in 2017, compared to 108 in 2016. In the same year 370 foreign nationals ran for office (7.6% of the candidates) and 15 were elected.

A CEFIS study, however, has highlighted the scant participation of non-Luxembourgers in local elections. Only 22.8% registered to vote in 2017, with a rate of 23.2% for EU nationals and 19.7% for citizens from outside the EU.

The data about young citizens is especially concerning, as only 5% of non-Luxembourgers aged between 18 and 24 registered to vote.

Portuguese citizens represented the largest number of foreign voters.

Under EU law, European Union citizens who live in another EU countries have voting and candidacy rights in municipal and European elections. Some EU countries extend these rights to non-EU nationals.

Luxembourg is among the EU states that have signed an agreement with the United Kingdom to continue previous voting arrangements post-Brexit.

In 2015 the Grand Duchy held a referendum on the extension of the right to vote in national election to foreign residents who had lived in the country for 10 years, but the proposal was rejected with 78% of the votes.

National elections thus remain restricted to voters with Luxembourg’s nationality.

The new law on voting rights in municipal elections was adopted by the Chamber of Deputies on 13 July 2022. Minister for Home Affairs Taina Bofferding said a national information campaign, “I can vote“, will aim to “make citizens aware of the importance of having a say in the future of their community”.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

The article was first published on 12 September 2021 and was updated with the adoption in parliament on 18 July 2022. Photo by Timothée Gidenne on Unsplash

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