Ioanna Schimizzi: What is the current status of the work on the revision of the constitution in the Chamber of Deputies?
Charles Margue: We are at a turning point in the implementation of the revision of the constitution and the new institutions. As regards the section on the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of State, which I report to the Committee on Institutions and Constitutional Review [editor's note: the revision of the constitution has been divided into four main parts], the important point is that the chamber's power of review will be strengthened, in agreement with the Council of State, which has advised in this direction. The first article on the Chamber of Deputies explains that there are two tasks: the first is to make laws and to check the executive. The chamber will therefore be able to ask a member of the government to come and play the question-and-answer game, and to bring documents to explain his or her statements.
IS: Isn't this already the case?
CM: It is a practice that is currently being done, but the aim is to enshrine it in the constitution, in the texts. There have been certain rulings by the Administrative Court on the presentation of documents, confidentiality, the secrecy to which the deputy is subject, etc. So it is an institutional game that is currently in a state of flux, and this is the right time to legislate. It must be admitted that this is also a time of nervousness, because if we include the right to request the constitution of a committee of enquiry from 20 MPs, i.e., a third and not a majority, this would also change the situation, and this is another element that is enshrined in the text that I am reporting. This is the new version of the committee of enquiry. Knowing that this committee of enquiry requires an enormous amount of energy, we are not going to set it up indiscriminately, because we must assume the consequences, and we must have the means to do so, but the aim is to contribute to greater transparency.
With the size of our country, we have the chance to be very reactive.
CM: Yes, this is one of the elements of our section on parliament, and we are already in the process of setting it up. It will be composed of civil servants, lawyers, economists, experts in finance, social sciences, natural sciences, etc. This strengthening of the chamber's review power goes hand in hand with an increase in its own resources.
IS: So, there will be a fundamental change in the powers of parliament?
CM: Absolutely. In the new chapter, we are going to strengthen the rights of the opposition and therefore of parliament as such, that everyone can table a bill. It will then have to be examined and the speaker of the house will have to forward it to the Council of State, it will no longer be able to drag on as is sometimes the case at present. Parliament will also have a direct line to the Council of State, because until now the chamber has gone through the Ministry of State to refer the matter to the Council of State.
IS: So, the reform will not lead to any major changes in your part of parliament?
CM: No, the idea is mainly to put a framework in place so that a future government cannot go back on it. And in the light of the health crisis and what we have seen, the pressure and temptation have made the executive take over. So we have to avoid any drift, and we can be pleased that every month, or even every three weeks, the government comes back to the chamber with a text that is much discussed in the committee to extend or modify the anti-covid measures. When I explain this to my non-Luxembourgish friends living abroad, they don't realise. With the size of our country, we have the chance to be very reactive. The aim is also to bring us up to international standards. The UN Committee for the Defence of the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child, for example, is asking Luxembourg to include the protection of children's rights as a fundamental right. Currently, it is included in the chapter on objectives of constitutional value, but only in the objectives and not as a fundamental right.
It would be disastrous to undermine this reform, which has been wanted for so many years, because of the election campaign.
IS: From a global point of view, what is the timetable for the revision of the constitution?
CM: The ambition of the Committee on Institutions and Constitutional Review, in agreement with the Chamber of Deputies, is to pass the four parts during the 2021-2022 session. The chapter on justice, rapported by Léon Gloden (CSV), is ready and was amended at the beginning of June after a second opinion from the Council of State, and the question of the independence of the judiciary has been settled. We will vote on it at the beginning of the new session, in October or November, probably at first reading.
IS: The “Groupement des magistrats luxembourgeois” (magistrates’ association) had denounced the decision to remove the guarantee of the independence of the public prosecutor's office in the new constitution, so their appeal was heard?
CM: Yes, this has been corrected, we have reached a political agreement with the Council of State, the four majority parties, as well as with the Ministry of Justice, which was very keen to enshrine the independence of the Public Prosecutor's Office. This is in line with our political convictions, and the ABCs of the rule of law. This section also includes the creation of a National Council of Justice responsible for managing personal and disciplinary matters of the judiciary.
IS: What is next on the legislative agenda?
CM: The chapter on the government, the head of state and the Grand Duke, rapported by Mars Di Bartolomeo (LSAP), was returned to the Council of State with amendments adopted on 25 June. It will take over from the justice chapter, perhaps with the first vote before Christmas, otherwise it will be shortly after the beginning of 2022. Next comes the chapter on rights and freedoms, rapported by Simone Beissel (DP). The Council of State has recently given its opinion, so we will work on it in the parliamentary committee in the autumn, and it will normally go through the first reading in January-February.
And we will end up with my part of the revision, which will be advised during the summer or early autumn by the Council of State, and which will then come back to the parliamentary committee. There may also be a reversal in the timetable between the rights and freedoms component and the house. These parts will come into force six months after the second vote, so some of them may come into force before the end of this term.
IS: Since the clash in the summer of 2019, have there been times when one of the four parties has wanted to veto certain issues or do you generally manage to find a consensus?
CM: Let's say that we look for and find consensus, and if we don't find it today, we put it back on the agenda of the following sessions. There is a consensus on the fact that we need a modernised constitution, and this is the motor that allows us to work. And the fact that this revision is being carried out in small steps and no longer as a whole, also helps to calm things down. But now we are making progress, and that is good news. And the aim is also to avoid this subject entering an electoral campaign, so the revision must be completed before the 2023 campaign, and there is a consensus on this. This does not mean that we are going to rush the work, but on the contrary to continue to work calmly. It would be disastrous to call into question this revision that has been wanted for so many years because of the election campaign.