A recent petition calling for English to be recognised as an administrative language in Luxembourg is causing debate on social media. Delano caught up with the petitioners to learn more about their motivations.
Petition 1414 aims to amend the language law of 1984, which recognises Luxembourgish, French and German as the three administrative languages and has French as the language of legislation, based on Napoleonic Code.
What surprises Justin Petkus, the main author of the petition, has been the misconception from some “that the petition is coming from lazy expats unwilling to assimilate into Luxembourg”. Not true, he says.
“Luxembourg is becoming some sort of French colony”
Petkus, a University of Luxembourg doctoral candidate and a registered psychologist in Luxembourg, who is recognised as a child life specialist and family life educator in the US, arrived in the grand duchy about a year and a half ago. He moved directly from Qatar, where he previously worked and also met his Luxembourgish wife.
“The petition is posted in my name, but it was a family idea,” Petkus told Delano. “We were talking and have had challenges with there being so much French, even when we request documents in Luxembourgish or German, or we submit documents in German and the reply is in French.”
His mother-in-law, Martine Linster, is now a retiree but says she had used English throughout her career, the bulk of which was spent working at the Luxembourg airport. She supports the petition, saying, “Even for me as a Luxembourger, it’s difficult to understand if it’s more than just everyday French. We are going in the direction that Luxembourg is becoming some sort of French colony.”
Petkus, who originally hails from Michigan (US), is currently taking Luxembourgish classes at the Institut National des Langues. “Thinking about the people coming here, refugees or expats living here or people like me, who married a Luxembourger and intend to stay here, we need to learn Luxembourgish to become citizens, but then you really have to learn French for anything else.”
Petkus and Linster say most Luxembourgers they have spoken with are open to the idea, whereas for Petkus, he has been surprised that some of the naysayers are foreigners themselves.
“In the last few decades, the English language has grown in importance, but the language law of 1984 has not been adapted to the change of demographics in the country in the year 2019,” the petition text states. And, for a country which touts its international population, comprised of nearly half non-Luxembourgers, and praises its multilingualism as a dimension to attract foreign investment and talent, Linster and Petkus say the admin languages aren't keeping step with the demographic shift since 1984.
“It’s about time that Luxembourg moves forward,” Linster says. “Luxembourg is one of the only countries left where you have German and French as a second language, and I think in most of the European countries it’s English.”
Backing by the expat community
A number of chambers and organisations are backing the petition, encouraging their constituencies to do the same. These include the Luxembourg-Poland Chamber of Commerce, Luxembourg Brazil Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham). The petition is even making the rounds at some of the expat-heavy schools and at the recent international bazaar, where Petkus says the British stand had been collecting signatures on site and he received positive feedback from several communities, especially the Indians and Pakistanis.
In an official statement sent to its members, Amcham stated that the organisation is “fully committed to the goal of integration through language learning and has taken direct action to support and encourage the learning of Luxembourgish and the other two official languages. But it can take newcomers quite some time to gain the linguistic competency necessary to deal with official communications at the level of an administrative language in which you are not already fluent.”
Foreigners, they argue, would have “less stress” with integration were English recognised as an official administrative language.
The petition would need to receive the required 4,500 signatures by 30 December in order for it to be debated in parliament.