On Tuesday afternoon, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel delivered his traditional State of the Nation address in the Chamber of Deputies (Parliament); he presented the economic, social and financial situation of the country over the past year, as well as looking at future challenges and opportunities.
Before giving the floor to the Prime Minister, Chamber President Fernand Etgen officially opened the new parliamentary session for 2021-22. This marked the first time that members of parliament (MPs) gathered in the Chamber of Deputies building since April 2020; over the past eighteen months, MPs met at Cercle Cité in order to better respect COVID-19 restrictions.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel began his speech by remembering the victims of COVID-19 and thinking of their loved ones. He then turned to the future, which he said would be shaped by the pandemic. Other significant challenges include climate change, rising housing prices and social problems, as well as digitalisation - all of which are "inevitably linked".
Instead of shying away from these challenges, the Prime Minister noted: "We Luxembourgers have always been able to emerge stronger from a crisis". He added: "The 'Luxembourg model' is a success story. It is the story of a country that has managed to achieve outstanding economic, political and social stability".
On the important topic of climate change, Luxembourg's Prime Minister took the example of July's severe flooding, emphasising: "We have no choice. We must meet our climate goals". To achieve this, he stressed the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, significantly invest in research and development and take preventative measures against the harmful effects that global warming is already causing. He recalled that Luxembourg is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.
Energy & Mobility
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel also stressed the importance of renewable energy, noting that Luxembourg plans to invest in offshore wind farms in Denmark and Belgium, as well as exploring alternative energy sources such as biogas and hydrogen. Investment in sustainable mobility is also key, with the government planning to add around 500 kilometres of new cycle paths across the Grand Duchy.
Despite a difficult financial period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Luxembourg's Prime Minister denied claims that the government plans to introduce austerity policies. He added that social issues remained a priority for the Luxembourg government.
To combat the housing crisis, the government plans to first invest heavily in the creation of affordable housing and secondly "fight speculation" through a property tax reform (bill to be tabled within the next twelve months). This reform will only target those "for whom housing is merely an object of speculation".
Moreover, the government is set to introduce free school meals for primary and secondary pupils from low-income families.
Returning to the pandemic, Luxembourg's Prime Minister thanked essential workers for their efforts in the fight against COVID-19. He recognised the difficulty in finding the balance between safety and freedom over the past eighteen months.
He lamented that the vaccinaton rate in Luxembourg remains too low, adding that, as the colder months approach and people begin spending more time indoors, this rate needs to reach 80% to 85% of the population. The Prime Minister recalled that the CovidCheck system will remain in place for the foreseeable future, with employers soon to be able to implement the system at work, as well.
On the topic of health in general, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel confirmed plans to invest in Luxembourg's healthcare system, for instance through the LongCovid project and the introduction of a national mental health plan next year.
2022 will also see the government launch a major awareness-raising campaign to highlight the needs and assets of people with disabilities. Moreover, there are plans to improve the accessibility of public buildings.
The Prime Minister noted that the pandemic had revealed the challenges of Luxembourg's education system. He stressed the importance of equal opportunities and confirmed that the government plans to introduce various measures, such as free homework help in primary schools and parent forums.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister went on to highlight the benefits of working from home, as revealed by the pandemic. He also recognised the limitations of remote working and confirmed that the government would "continue to accelerate the decentralisation of our jobs", thus "bring[ing] housing and employment closer together".
The pandemic also showed just how dependent countries are on one another, according to the Prime Minister. "Never before have we worked so closely with our neighbouring countries in the Greater Region as we have over the past eighteen months", he noted, adding that such cooperation should be improved and facilitated at the European level.
That being said, the Luxembourg government intends to further promote local produce.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister noted how the pandemic has accelerated digitalisation, which will shape the future of the Grand Duchy in several ways. One example is the MyGuichet app, which has been downloaded more than 150,000 times to date. He added that the government will continue to invest in digital infrastructure, including the development of 5G.
In light of recent concerns on the topic of security, particularly in Luxembourg-Gare, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said that the government will introduce a stronger police presence. By 2023, the Grand Ducal Police is expected to recruit more than 600 police officers and 240 civilian staff. The government also plans to reform its drug policy.
The Prime Minister added that Luxembourg will fully support the European Union's (EU) new conditionality mechanism, which aims to protect the EU budget from dysfunctions of the rule of law in Member States.
"We want a strong Luxembourg in a strong Europe. A Europe, which, united and with one voice, tackles the great challenges of our time", he concluded. "We want to shape Luxembourg in a way that allows everyone to make a good living. [...] There are many challenges. We have a long way to go. The target is set. Let us now tackle these challenges together. This is our common path. This is our common goal".