If there were any surprises in the composition of the government, they were due to the entry of two newcomers, unknown to the general public, as ministers: Martine Deprez for the CSV has been appointed minister for health and social security, and Stéphanie Obertin for the DP has been appointed minister for digitalisation, research and higher education. In addition to its announced heavyweights, the DP is also promoting a non-MP, who nonetheless succeeded last June in becoming mayor of Schieren at the age of 29. Éric Thill will be minister for culture and deputy minister for tourism.
Asked about the advisability of appointing non-elected figures as ministers--and he is not the first prime minister to do so, for example Paulette Lenert (LSAP), Pierre Gramegna (DP) and Octavie Modert (CSV) were unelected appointments--Luc Frieden (CSV) pointed out that “a government is never elected. It is appointed by the grand duke on the proposal of the formator and the parties. And I believe that it is sometimes a good idea to open up the circle of ministerial candidates for particular skills.”
Martine Deprez: a woman of figures at the head of social security
As for selecting the eight CSV ministers, Frieden stated: “I was spoilt for choice. I tried to take into account a number of criteria, including of course the geographical distribution between the constituencies, a specific feature of Luxembourg, age, gender and expertise in certain areas. I think I’ve managed to strike a balance, a harmony between the people. And I believe that I have succeeded in putting together, DP ministers included, a consistent government team to prepare the country’s future.”
A mathematician, Martine Deprez, who will hold the health and social security portfolios. The ministry that will also have to consider the future of the pensions system, which was not widely debated during the election campaign. Presented as the pensions specialist, the appointment of a figures expert to such a post is likely to cause a stir.
Housing for Claude Meisch, in addition to education
While the CSV ministers dominate the government in terms of numbers, in terms of experience of government action, it is the DP that seems best placed. Of its seven ministers, five are outgoing ministers. And all hold key positions. These include economy for Lex Delles, who will also be responsible for energy issues, family and solidarity for Max Hahn and, another surprise, housing combined with spatial planning--previously two separate areas of responsibility--for Claude Meisch. He also retains responsibility for national education, despite having been pushed around by the teachers’ unions during the campaign. This combination has already provoked negative reactions. Sven Clement (Piraten) was the first to draw his sword.
On the Liberal side, before introducing the future ministers, outgoing PM and soon-to-be foreign minister Xavier Bettel (DP) looked back: “I am proud of the work that has been done over the last ten years and I am looking forward to the challenge of the next five years, of working with a new coalition partner, in the interests of the country and its citizens. It was with a twinge of sadness that we held the last cabinet meeting this morning. When you work with people for ten years, you build friendships, complicities and relationships. I am convinced that the new coalition will do its best to ensure that the country we love so much remains that country.”
As for the reasons behind the selection of the DP part of the government team, it was the election results that were first and foremost taken into account, Bettel said. “Max Hahn and Claude Meisch were the two best elected in the South [constituency]; Yuriko Backes and myself in the Centre; Eric Thill came fourth in the West behind three men; Lex Delles also came first. I’m delighted that Stéphanie Obertin has agreed to take on this task. We are not a party that wants to impose quotas. We have tried to strike a balance between regions, professions, abilities and experience, and we don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. It’s not looked at as a man or a woman, but as the right person in the right place.”
Luc Frieden as coordinator
That said, while the priority during the coalition agreement negotiations was cross-cutting issues--housing, health, climate, poverty--there will be no super ministry with an overall view of these challenges. The bill for the Frieden-Bettel government could not be more classic.
De facto, Frieden has positioned himself as the government’s conductor, the person who will act as the link between each ministry. This explains why, contrary to the tradition of Luxembourg heads of government, he will be content to be ‘only’ minister of state and will have no other ministerial responsibilities.
Frieden said: “I believe that the prime minister’s mission is to coordinate the government’s action. My role as leader of this team will therefore be to ensure that the government's programme is implemented. That will be my primary responsibility. Talking to the ministers, ensuring that the programme is implemented, that’s the role of a prime minister.”
Frieden has abandoned the traditional title of minister of state in favour of that of prime minister. And while the function of minister for religious affairs, linked to that of head of government, remains under his responsibility, it has been omitted from his formal title.
Frieden will also have a deputy minister, Elisabeth Margue, who will report directly to him on matters relating to relations with parliamentm as well as issues relating to the media and communications sector. The latter includes responsibility for the country's digital policy and overseeing the development of artificial intelligence.
Time for action
At the end of the national party congress that validated the coalition agreement--or at least its main principles --and the choice of ministers, Frieden let his satisfaction show.
“It’s the end of a long journey for me, which began in January, and the last few weeks as formateur have been intense. I’m delighted that the entire CSV and the DP have given their unanimous approval. This is good news for the start of this coalition, which is now just waiting to begin its work,” he said.
The main thrusts of the government’s action and the new team's first major measures will be discussed Thursday 16 November, after the official signing of the coalition agreement between the CSV and the DP at the Hôtel Saint Augustin, the prime minister’s office. We should learn more about how the different administrations will coordinate to tackle the major cross-cutting issues that have been put forward.
Originally published in French by Paperjam and translated for Delano