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Call to amend Luxembourg citizenship language test falls short

Call to amend Luxembourg citizenship language test falls short

by John MONAGHAN 2 min. 10.09.2021
Petition calling for proficiency exam in French or German instead falls short of threshold needed for debate in parliament
Anyone wishing to obtain Luxembourgish nationality must pass a Luxembourgish language test
Anyone wishing to obtain Luxembourgish nationality must pass a Luxembourgish language test
Photo credit: Guy Jallay

(This article was corrected to reflect the fact that the 2016 petition received 14,500 signatures, not 7,000)

A public petition calling on the government to drop the requirement for proficiency in the Luxembourgish language as a pre-requisite for citizenship has failed to obtain enough support to be debated in parliament.

Deputies are required to discuss any petition that gathers at least 4,500 signatures within a period of 42 days, with some proposals becoming law as a result.

The petition regarding language testing for citizenship in the Grand Duchy was launched on 30 July, and urged the government to remove the obligation for applicants to pass an exam in Luxembourgish.

Campaigners argued that candidates should be allowed the choice of taking the exam in French or German instead, the other two official languages in Luxembourg. However, the petition closed late on Thursday night with just over 3,700 signatures, falling short of the threshold needed to progress.

It comes amid criticism over the downgrading of Luxembourgish at the country’s sole airport, Findel, where a new automated announcements system installed earlier this year delivers information in French and English only.

The organisers of the petition said that the “fact that someone speaks one of the three official languages should be sufficient in obtaining Luxembourgish nationality”.

“Speaking one of these languages [French or German], it is possible to live a normal life in Luxembourg,” the petition read. “The current requirements for obtaining Luxembourgish nationality discriminate against those who speak French or German.”

At present anyone wishing to become a Luxembourgish citizen must pass a language test, the Sproochentest, comprising a spoken and listening exam. A score of at least 50% on the spoken test is required to pass, although the result in the listening exam can be offset against it. However, the command of Luxembourgish required to obtain citizenship is widely regarded as basic, with the spoken exam classified as ‘A2’, the second most elementary level under a common European framework.

Lawmakers do not always take popular petitions under their radar even when the minimum threshold of signatures has been met.

In 2016, a petition calling for Luxembourgish to become the first official language in the country's Constitution received a record breaking 14,500 signatures, meeting the minimum 4,500 threshold within days. However, the issue did not progress in Luxembourg's Chamber of Deputies.

A study carried out in 2019 by Luxembourg’s official statistics agency, Statec, showed that Luxembourgish is the most common language spoken at home in the country but that French is the dominant language at work.

Defending their decision to install a French and English language announcement system at LuxAirport, ministers said last month that the cost of recording a Luxembourgish version was too high to be justified.

All non-automated announcements will continue to be made in Luxembourgish while staff are on hand to assist those wishing to speak Luxembourgish, the head of LuxAirport, René Steinhaus, told RTL on Thursday. The airport is simply reflecting the reality that it deals with passengers from more than 160 countries around the world, Steinhaus added.

The association for the protection of the language, Aktioun Lëtzebuergesch, criticised the change as the end of "a decades-old tradition".

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