Five-year residency scrapped for local elections

The government on 2 September moved to abolish a five-year residency requirement for foreigners to vote in local elections Photo: Mike Zenari

The government on 2 September moved to abolish a five-year residency requirement for foreigners to vote in local elections Photo: Mike Zenari

Luxembourg plans to scrap a five-year residency requirement for foreigners living in the country to participate in municipal elections.

Under current rules, non-Luxembourg citizens must live in the grand duchy for five years before they can vote or stand for election in their commune. The last year of residence must be uninterrupted.

But the government plans to abolish this requirement, justice minister Sam Tanson (déi Gréng), interior minister Taina Bofferding (LSAP) and integration minister Corinne Cahen (DP) announced on Thursday.

“People get the right to vote as soon as they arrive in their commune. They can immediately participate in political life and they can integrate more easily by taking an interest in the political decisions that affect their lives,” Cahen said.

Only around a third of foreign nationals living in Luxembourg were able to vote in the 2017 communal elections because of the residency clause, the ministers said. While Luxembourg nationals are automatically registered for election under mandatory voting rules, foreigners are free to register.

“The municipalities are the heart of our democracy. Decisions made on this level directly affect our citizens, and consequences are felt in everyday life. Therefore, we must enable our entire population to participate in municipal elections and become active in local politics,” Bofferding said.

Communes fund primary schools, maintain local roads and have authority over land-use planning, among other responsibilities.

The delay to register will also be lengthened under the plans presented on 2 September. Currently, lists close 87 days before the ballot. This will be reduced to 55 days, giving non-nationals an extra month to register to vote.

EU and non-EU nationals would as a result be able to vote in municipal elections as soon as they arrive in the country. The ministers said each vote is a victory for democracy, adding that the right to participate in the democratic process is a human right.

The government under prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) in 2015 failed to secure support for non-nationals to be allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. In a referendum, more than 78% of voters rejected the idea. “It is a clear signal, which we will respect,” Bettel said at the time.

As a result, the government moved to make access to Luxembourg nationality easier for foreigners, allowing them to apply for citizenship after five years of residence, down from seven. It also simplified procedures for foreigners married to a Luxembourg national and allowed children born in Luxembourg to foreign parents to become nationals as of the age of 12 under some conditions.

Around 48% of Luxembourg’s population of 626,000 are foreigners, with the number at around two thirds in Luxembourg City.

Luxembourg’s next municipal elections are scheduled for 11 June 2023 and the new rules should be in place by then. The draft law presented on Thursday will need to be approved by members of parliament before it can come into effect.