Social cohesion in Luxembourg 'not in danger'
Christian Social People's Party (CSV) politician Gilles Roth, Mamer mayor since 2000 and Member of Parliament (MP) since 2007, has seen his party leading the government and in the opposition.
A top government adviser until he became an MP, Roth is now also vice-president of the CSV's parliamentary fraction.
In a recent interview with Luxembourg Times sister publication the Luxemburger Wort, he shares his views on the 2015 referendum to give non-Luxembourgers the right to vote in legislative elections, social cohesion and how he envisions the future of his commune.
What place do you allocate to foreign residents in your reflections as a deputy?
When the CSV was still in the majority, I was rapporteur on many projects at the tax-adjustment level, and there I regularly had dossiers concerning non-residents. A lot of tax adjustment had to be made to fit the evolution of the tax jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice.
Do you think the negative result of the 2015 referendum to give non-Luxembourgers the right to vote has changed the perception of foreigners in Luxembourg?
No. I saw two reasons in the negative response that was given.
On one hand, it was a sort of revenge against the new coalition. It was a year and a half after the beginning of the new coalition, which had initiated its savings package. Luxembourgers did not want that.
On the other hand, it was the expression of a certain national sovereignty, which is very dear to Luxembourgers. It was not against foreigners but simply done through a certain spirit of Luxembourgish identity.
There are some from rural populations, older people, who are afraid to see the language and traditions of Luxembourg disappear. In fact, Luxembourgers are already in the minority during the day. Many older people are not familiar with the French language and do not know how to explain in French to a nurse, for example, their pain. They have some reluctance.
This is not parochialism against strangers but rather a matter of personal interest.
Was this referendum a good idea in the end?
It was a bad idea. But the main idea of the referendum was, for the governing coalition, to impose its views on the CSV, particularly in the context of a reform of the Constitution. If the new coalition government had won legitimacy in the referendum, the CSV could not have blocked a constitutional amendment to the right to vote.
This is linked to minority blocking, which is valid in Luxembourg for votes on the amendment of the Constitution: one-third of the deputies can block the vote.
The new coalition wanted to impose critical points such as the voting rights of foreigners and the separation of Church and State.
During the next legislature, the number of foreign residents is expected to exceed that of Luxembourg residents. What happens to social cohesion in this context?
Social cohesion is not in danger in Luxembourg. From 6am to 10pm, there are already many more foreigners present on Luxembourgish soil than Luxembourgers of origin.
In a municipality where more than half the population is non-Luxembourgers, I have never encountered any problems related to tensions between Luxembourgers and non-Luxembourgers over the last 18 years.
The right direction is the approach initiated by the CSV to facilitate foreigners' access to Luxembourgish nationality. People who really want to acquire nationality and intend to become familiar with the Luxembourgish language must be given the right to vote.
When Luxembourg has about 1 million inhabitants around 2060, it will also have about 350,000 cross-border workers, according to projections by Statec and the Idea Foundation. Do you see this as a benefit or a challenge for the country?
It is a benefit because we are unable to fill all the jobs that will be created with native Luxembourgers alone or those who settle in the country. And it's a challenge because we have to bring people to Luxembourg, not only through higher salaries but by reducing the constraints they have, to commute daily.
Whatever the Luxembourgers say, I respect those who leave Thionville or Metz around 6am and who do not return before 8pm, to work in Luxembourg and earn wages that are still moderate.
Unlike many others, I have no problem with the Luxembourg government taking part in investments made to facilitate the transfer of frontier workers to Luxembourg because the quality of the work provided would be better.
Could one of the solutions be remote working?
Partly, but Luxembourg should optimise its infrastructure to link Namur, Brussels and Metz. It would be a win-win situation.
You've been mayor of Mamer since 2000 and were easily re-elected in October 2017. What projects are you prioritising?
Revitalising the centre of Mamer. We now have the financial possibility to do it because we have more than €10 million in liquidity in the communal fund.
We want to put an accent on soft mobility. A big project is realising a cycle path, which would link the three localities in the commune (Mamer, Capellen and Holzem) with the Tossenberg campus, with the Lycée Josy Barthel and the European School II. The cycle path would overlook the Faulbach stream. The project still needs the authorisation of the water management administration. It's a project that is close to my heart.
Finally, we have a housing project. As we have strong real estate pressure on our municipality, we will have to ensure young people can also settle in Mamer.
Why does the CSV-LSAP coalition work so well in Mamer?
Because we have a good relationship at the communal council level and especially with my colleague and first alderman, Roger Negri.
We work from the principle of "live and let live". We operate more like a government: each one manages the departments, which he is responsible for, and functions with a certain independence. When there are difficulties, then we discuss them at the level of the council level.
It's a straightforward relationship.
Is it possible to envisage this coalition again at the national level if the CSV wins the legislative elections on 14 October?
Why not? It's an option like another. The CSV-LSAP coalitions were normally very good governments that managed the interests of the country well.