Freedom in the World
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Luxembourg continued deficit-cutting austerity measures in 2012 despite labor protests against pension reform. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe called on the government to do more to protect the rights of asylum seekers.
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 and Development’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.
In December 2011, after failed negotiations with unions, the government unilaterally reduced the frequency of automatic inflation-based wage increases. In October 2012, Juncker defended a 2013 budget containing further austerity measures, while ruling out value-added tax increases that would be a burden for the poor.
In October 2012, Crown Prince Guillaume, the 30-year-old heir to the throne, married Belgian Countess Stéphanie de Lannoy.
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. Foreigners constitute more than a third of the population.
The political system is open to the establishment 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. Luxembourg was ranked 12 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution. 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 October 2012, a government-commissioned report said that 95.6 percent of state funding for religious institutions went to the Catholic Church, and recommended a more equitable distribution for other faiths. 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. The LCGB trade union held a strike in October 2012 against the government’s pension reform plans.
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 2011, 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. In September 2011, 30 Iraqi asylum seekers went on a hunger strike protesting processing times for asylum applications. In March 2012, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights recommended that Luxembourg take steps to protect the rights of asylum seekers, citing unjustified detentions and a planned reduction in monthly financial aid.
While women comprise more than half of the labor force, they are underrepresented at the highest levels of government; 15 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. The Chamber of Deputies approved the law in November 2012. According to the 2012 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking, Luxembourg has not yet implemented comprehensive protections for victims of trafficking.