Voters reject calls for referendum on constitutional reforms
A public referendum on proposed changes to Luxembourg’s courts and legal system looks very unlikely to go ahead after voters across the country failed to register the required number of signatures at their local communes to force a poll on the issue.
Following a government u-turn in 2019 on its earlier promise to hold a referendum, a citizen’s initiative was launched to force a public vote on the reforms to the 1868 constitution, which saw petition registers open in communes across Luxembourg from mid-November.
The process has been debated for almost two decades as lawmakers have wrangled over changes, which include amendments to Luxembourg's courts and legal system, the curtailing of some powers of the monarchy and amendments to how parliament functions.
Reforms to the constitution are divided into individual draft bills, with campaigners on this occasion seeking to have a public vote on the proposed changes to the courts and legal systems, instead of a second vote in parliament, which had already approved the measures in an initial vote. Each of the individual bills can be subject to calls for a referendum.
The failure to secure enough support in communes marks a huge blow for campaigners in their attempts to force a public referendum on either the judicial reforms, which now looks highly unlikely to be held, or other looming changes which could be subject to similar calls for a vote, given the low turnout on this occasion.
Voters had a month to register their support for a referendum, but by the time polls closed on Sunday evening, the petition had fallen well short of the 25,000 signatures required to progress the issue.
Hours before the deadline passed, just 374 people had signed the register in Luxembourg City – the country’s capital with a population of almost 130,000 – and only 266 in Esch-sur-Alzette, the second largest city with around 34,000 residents, according to the Luxemburger Wort.
Officials in several communes indicated that some voters were confused about the purpose of the petition, with a number of signatories saying they had come to register “so that children are not vaccinated”.
The exact number of signatures is due to be verified and confirmed in coming days by the Ministry of State, headed by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and which is responsible for the organisation of referendums, but it is clear that the threshold for a referendum, which could have happened within six months had enough support been secured, has not been met.
It comes despite earlier evidence that voters were in favour of a poll, with a public petition on the parliament’s website attracting more than 18,000 signatures, forcing a debate among deputies.
More than half of respondents in a survey carried out last month for Luxemburger Wort and RTL said that a referendum should be held over Luxembourg's longstanding and complex constitutional reforms, with only 22% definitely opposing the move.
The government initially proposed a referendum on the constitutional reforms in its 2018 coalition agreement, but later backtracked on that commitment.
(Additional reporting by Danielle Schumacher and Laura Bannier)