Picture of a ballot being cast in the 2018 elections Library photo: Mike Zenari

Picture of a ballot being cast in the 2018 elections Library photo: Mike Zenari

A campaign to hold a referendum on changes to Luxembourg’s constitution has experienced another setback after a citizens’ initiative failed to collect the number of signatures needed to trigger the public ballot.

The reform of the country’s highest laws has been ongoing for more than a decade but party squabbles in 2019 meant a comprehensive new text--which was set to be put to a public vote--was shelved. Instead, the update was divided into four chapters--justice, organisation of the state, rights and liberties, and Chamber of Deputies and Council of State. As a result, the government parties--the DP, LSAP and Déi Gréng--abandoned a referendum they had promised during the 2018 elections. 

But under Luxembourg law, on changes to the constitution up to two weeks after the first vote in parliament has taken place. Members of parliament on 20 October passed the justice chapter in a first vote.

If the citizens’ initiative manages to collect the signatures of at least 25,000 voters at their commune, this procedure triggers a referendum.

But a straw poll by RTL and the Luxemburger Wort showed that the names collected fell short of the goal after the deadline on 20 December.

In Luxembourg City--the country’s largest commune but also the municipality with the highest rate of foreigners, who cannot vote--only 374 people signed the petition. In Esch-sur-Alzette and Differdange it was around 300, RTL said.

Communes have eight days to submit the lists of people demanding a referendum to the government. Only a few dozen signatures were collected in other communes, such as Diekirch, Echternach or Wiltz, the publications said.

The government once it receives the lists has eight days to verify signatures, with the final outcome of the initiative to be published by 5 January.

The request for a referendum applied only to the justice chapter voted by MPs in October. The same process could be repeated for the other three chapters.

A public petition--which can be signed online and by people without a right to vote in the country--reached more than 18,500 signatures in November, prompting a with lawmakers and government representatives.

However, the majority parties and the CSV opposition decided to stick to their decision not to host a referendum. The CSV had said if the petition attracts 25,000 signatures it would . MPs can force such a vote if 16 lawmakers formally petition the government. The CSV is the only party in parliament that has enough seats to single-handedly do so.

The reform of the constitution includes new provisions on the separation of powers, the role of the grand duke, the justice system, rights of children and animal rights, and academic freedom, among other topics.