Vera Haas-Gelejinsky, a senior civil servant (on left); Marco Schank, CSV president of the Chamber of Deputies petitions commission (third from left); Mars di Bartolomeo LSAP speaker of parliament (third from right); Georges Engel LSAP MP (second from right); and Nicolas Schmit, LSAP minister for employment (right). They are pictured during a debate on the petition to increase legal vacation days for the private sector on 27 March 2017.
Photo: Chambre des députés
Since March 2014, people in Luxembourg have been able to petition parliament to debate issues they deeply care about. That is, if they get 4,500 signatures.
Luxembourgers have been busy these past three years: 468 public petitions have been submitted as of 15 March (the latest figures available).
The subjects touch on every aspect of life. They range from cheaper housing, to a referendum on CETA (the Canada-EU trade deal), to more protection of animals, to meal vouchers (cheques-repas) for pensioners or to, yes you know it, the use of Luxembourgish as an administrative language.
Of these, 379 have been admitted--of those 89 that were not approved by the parliament’s committee on petitions, 78 were rejected for not complying with the rulebook, a Chamber of Deputies representative told Delano this week.
The reasons for this are varied and directly related to the, sometimes funny, content of the petitions:
A request to reformulate the petition was not followed in 28 cases. One such petition called for the free distribution of condoms in schools. Another recent petition which was deemed inadmissible called to ban US president Donald Trump from entering the country.
The content was incorrect in 15 cases: consider the petition to “rename the civil code which was based on the code Napoleon into the “code Jang de Blannen” (John the Blind, John of Bohemia--who was the Count of Luxembourg from 1309 and King of Bohemia from 1310). This petition earned a stern rebuke from Mars di Bartolomeo, speaker of parliament, that petitions were “not a platform for parodies”.
Parliament was not concerned in 10 cases, such as the one on the Saint Joseph cemetery in Esch-sur-Alzette, or the one which asked to “be able to park in front of your house without getting a ticket”. One also called for signs which indicated that feeding pigeons is banned; while it was not admitted for debate in parliament, it nevertheless elicited a detailed response from the mayor of Luxembourg, Lydie Polfer.
Citizens and non-Luxembourg nationals, who are at least 15 years old and have a national registration number, can submit and sign petitions to parliament.
Only 20 of the 379 accepted petitions have achieved that watershed mark of collecting 4,500 signatures. One petition which called to extend the rail network to two rail tracks towards the North until Gouvy in Belgium received only 527 signatures. Another petition called for a ban on advertisements on the radio and TV on official holidays, but it only got 31 signatures.
However, the petition in 2016 to ban hiding your face in public collected 4275 signatures--a mere 225 short of getting a hearing in parliament. With the current government proposal to ban the dissimulation of the face in public, did this petition push it in that direction?
Politicians, whether in government or in parliament, do take note of these petitions. During these public debates, the competent minister is often present, and many MPs participate in the exchange. After the presentation of the arguments by the petitioner, MPs can ask questions as to the motives, objectives and even sometimes practical implementation of the suggestions. The minister also makes a statement on whether he or she thinks is commendable, doable and opportune, and then the petitioner has another chance to react to that statement.
Top 10 petitions
Since there have been only 20 petitions which made it into the “charts”, let’s have a look at the top 10 in terms of signatures and when the issue was debated at a parliamentary hearing:
1. 698 – Enshrine Luxembourgish in law as the first administrative language and national language for all residents Debate: 16.01.2017 14,500 signatures 2. 596 – For the right to private schools for everyone: private schools for disabled and special needs children Debate: 13.04.2016 12,952 signatures 3. 715 – For the preservation and modernisation of parish councils Debate: 23.01.2017 11,679 signatures 4. 483 – Against the regulation on opening the game hunting season in 2015/2016 Debate: 11.05.2015 10,317 signatures 5. 762 – Legal paid vacation days of at least 30 days for the whole private sector Debate: 27.03.2017 10,105 signatures 6. 621 – Legal steps towards switching off and decommissioning of the Cattenom nuclear power plant Debate: 21.06.2016 9,701 signatures 7. 575 – Against the reclassification of widows and widowers from tax bracket 2 to 1A Debat: 02.02.2016 8,540 signatures 8. 668 – Use of Luxembourgish produce in public canteens and restaurants (crèches, schools, childcare centres, hospitals, retirement homes, etc. Debat: 13.01.2017 7,758 signatures 9. 567 – For better care of people affected by Lyme disease Debate: 03.02.2016 7,460 signatures 10. 333 – Against the tram and in favour of a referendum Debate: 27.05.2014 7,105 signatures
Marco Schank, the CSV president of the petitions commission, told Delano on 28 March that a report on petitions will be published at the end of April or beginning of May. The document will detail which petitions have resulted in legislative or regulatory changes. It will also examine the extent that the government is responsive to petitioners’ concerns.