Chronicle.lu recently had the opportunity to sit down with Luxembourg's Minister for Home Affairs and Minister of Equality between Women and Men, Taina Bofferding, to learn about the importance of the political participation of non-Luxembourgish residents and what her ministries, and other (political) actors, are doing to encourage foreigners to register to vote in the upcoming municipal (local) elections.
Luxembourg's next municipal elections, held every six years, will take place on Sunday 11 June 2023. For the first time, non-Luxembourgish residents (over the age of eighteen) are eligible to vote, regardless of how many years they have lived in the Grand Duchy – previously, there was a five-year residency requirement.
According to the latest figures, only 12.5% of eligible non-Luxembourgish voters had registered to vote by the end of February 2023. The deadline to register is Monday 17 April 2023 and registration is possible either online via MyGuichet.lu or in person at one's municipality of residence. In addition, a National Registration Day on 18 March 2023 will see municipalities across the country open their doors exceptionally on a Saturday to offer their non-Luxembourgish residents another possibility to register on the electoral roll in person. Note that eligible Luxembourgish nationals are automatically registered to vote.
Taina Bofferding, who has served as Luxembourg’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister of Equality between Women and Men since 2018 (following the national elections that year), emphasised the value of scrapping the old five-year residency requirement for foreigners to participate in municipal elections; she described this greater foreign political participation as "the strengthening of democracy". The minister noted that local politics directly affects the lives of all Luxembourg residents regardless of their nationality and so non-Luxembourgers should also have a say in decisions made at the local level. Whilst registration figures remain low, there is still time to register to vote and all actors in society (political parties, municipalities, etc.) should be involved in getting as many non-Luxembourgish residents to register as possible, she added.
Regarding the double challenge of encouraging more foreign nationals and more women (including foreign women) involved in politics in Luxembourg, both in terms of registering to vote and running as a candidate themselves, Minister Bofferding cited various awareness-raising initiatives in Luxembourg, including the "I can vote" campaign of the Ministry of Family Affairs and Integration, which specifically targets non-Luxembourgish residents. Moreover, the Ministry of Equality between Women and Men is encouraging municipalities to highlight their female mayors, alderwomen and council members, for instance through open days, offering the public a behind-the-scenes look at the daily realities and experiences of these female role models.
"Politics is not behind closed doors," Minister Bofferding stated, recalling that municipal council sessions are generally open to the public, although she advocated pushing for more openness and gender equality at the local level. She added that it was important to break down barriers and stereotypes, reminding members of the public, not least women, that they do not need to have studied politics or have completed a certain training course before getting involved. "I can only encourage everyone who is interested and wants to [get involved], to do it because local politics is very interesting," the minister said, adding that the consequences of decisions taken at the local level can be felt directly, whether they concern childcare and primary education options, the local youth offer or facilities for older people, affordable housing or even cycling infrastructure. "There you see how tangible local politics is." As such, she appealed once again to all eligible residents to exercise their right to vote: "It’s a human right and we should make use of that right."
Mergers "create synergies"
Concerning changes to the municipalities themselves since the 2017 elections, Minister Bofferding recalled that there will be just 100 municipalities (instead of the current 102) in which residents will vote this year, thanks to two new mergers: Grosbous-Wahl and Bous-Waldbredimus. Whilst municipalities, particularly the smallest ones, are encouraged and incentivised to merge, the decision is voluntary. "It must be voluntary, it must come from the municipalities, from the people themselves," stressed Minister Bofferding, who said she favoured a "bottom-up" approach. She noted that there are often many advantages associated with smaller municipalities merging, as they pool their resources to tackle new challenges and responsibilities and "create synergies". However, it is also up to the residents of the municipalities in question who vote in a municipal consultative referendum before any merger can take place. Once the decision is taken to merge, the government supports the affected municipalities throughout the process and the merger must also be approved on the legislative level.
Transparency of list-based voting
When asked her position on the different voting systems in Luxembourg's municipal elections – relative majority for municipalities with fewer than 3,000 residents and list-based voting with proportional representation for municipalities with 3,000 or more residents – Minister Bofferding said that she believed proportional representation was more "transparent" and "understandable", as voters generally have a better idea of where candidates from specific political parties stand on certain issues – even if candidates are free to run independently also in municipalities applying the list-based system. This was also her stance last summer when the Syvicol union proposed that more municipalities should use the relative majority system (by increasing the threshold from 3,000 to 6,000 residents). In response to the argument that certain municipalities struggle to find enough candidates (in 2017, four municipalities did not hold elections for this reason), Minister Bofferding said that she felt the bigger issue was getting more people interested in politics, by making politics more attractive for a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds. This means creating an "attractive framework", for instance through a proposed political leave.
Following the municipal elections in June, Luxembourgish nationals will go to the polls a second time this year, with the legislative (national) elections scheduled for Sunday 8 October 2023. When asked if she was interested in running for re-election, Minister Bofferding said: "Absolutely. I'm still motivated." She described the past five years as "intense" but "exciting" and confirmed that she still had a lot of ideas and would like to finalise some of the policies and reforms she has initiated during her mandate. Nevertheless, it is up to her political party (Luxembourg Socialist Workers' Party - LSAP) to decide whether to nominate her and then up to the electorate to decide whether to re-elect her in October.