The deadline for non-Luxembourgish residents of the Grand Duchy to register to vote in the municipal (local) elections (set for Sunday 11 June 2023) is fast approaching; eligible foreign voters have until 17:00 on Monday 17 April 2023 to register either online via Guichet.lu or in person at their municipality of residence.
By the end of March 2023, 16.1% of foreign residents over the age of eighteen (i.e. 41,336 out of 257,034 eligible voters) had registered to vote. In 2017, when only foreign nationals having resided in Luxembourg for more than five years could vote in the municipal elections, this figure stood at 22.8%.
Sylvain Besch, head of the Centre d'Étude et de Formation Interculturelles et Sociales (CEFIS), explained to Chronicle.lu that the number of registrations (in absolute terms) is expected to rise further as the deadline draws nearer, although a dramatic increase in the registration rate is unlikely.
CEFIS is a non-profit organisation (ASBL) carrying out "action research" in the areas of integration, living together and socio-political participation in Luxembourg. Political participation is particularly high on the agenda this year in light of the elections. Since 1999, the non-profit has been acting as a type of "observatory" for the electoral participation of foreigners, actively working from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective and looking at both active (voters) and passive (candidates) electoral participation as well as election results. This work includes reaching out to the various municipalities, clubs and organisations, as well as the Ministry of Family Affairs and Integration, to measure the success of their actions in this area, compiling data and publishing recommendations. CEFIS has also been tasked by the aforementioned ministry with training "multipliers" who spread the word about voting among their communities in Luxembourg. This initiative has grown from 22 multipliers for the 2011 municipal elections (and 28 for the 2014 European elections) to 231 in 2017 and 312 in 2023. CEFIS works together with the multipliers to learn about any obstacles they encountered and the impact of their actions on the electoral participation of specific foreign communities.
Looking at the current registration figures, Sylvain Besch noted that the registration rate is currently lower than that of 2017 in part due to the reform of the electoral law in July 2022, which removed the five-year residency clause: "The ones who were excluded could from one day to another register on the electoral roll." He added that several other factors can lower the foreign voter registration rate, namely foreign residents acquiring Luxembourgish nationality (and being automatically moved to the Luxembourgish voter list), emigration (people leaving Luxembourg, whether to go back to their country of origin or move elsewhere), deaths, and disenrollment. He elaborated on the first point, which is considered one of the biggest factors: "A number of foreign nationals who were previously registered on the voter list of foreigners have in the meantime become Luxembourgers and are now on the voter list of Luxembourgers: the Luxembourgish voting population is getting bigger and bigger [for this reason]."
The eligible foreign voters who are hardest to convince are those aged 18-24 and those who have lived in the country for five years or less. Sylvain Besch noted that young people appeared to have "a different relationship with politics" and were generally "a bit more distanced from conventional forms of participation" such as elections, instead favouring other forms of political action such as protests. The registration rate for young people aged 18-24 is currently 2.5%. Mr Besch noted that this age group also have other direct priorities as they find their place in society, such as education, work and accommodation. Young people are also underrepresented among candidates (foreign and Luxembourgish alike). To raise awareness among this target group, CEFIS led a multipliers' training course for the National Youth Council of Luxembourg and the umbrella organisation for Luxembourgish youth structures.
For the second category of hard-to-convince eligible foreign voters, it has been proven that the longer someone has lived in the country (or even in a particular municipality), the more likely they are to register to vote (and the shorter this time, the less likely they are to register). For newcomers, voting may not be at the top of their priority list, acknowledged Mr Besch, as they first want to get settled and find a school for their children, etc. Currently, the registration rate for foreign residents having lived in Luxembourg for five years or less stands at 7.5%; this figure increases progressively with the duration of residency, with the highest registration rate recorded among those having resided in Luxembourg for more than 30 years (37.7%).
Language also plays a role, with immigration and the diversification of this immigration over the past 20 to 30 years being "a reality" in Luxembourg. Mr Besch noted that English is often used as a language of communication between these foreign communities, although the population is becoming increasingly multilingual in general. Nevertheless, most political debates are still held in Luxembourgish. Mr Besch noted that the more foreigners who register to vote, the more pressure this puts on political parties to find ways to reach these new potential voters. Another factor is that the election campaign will not fully kick off until May, i.e. after the deadlines to register as a candidate (12 April 2023; 270 out of 3,575 candidates in 2017 were foreign nationals, i.e. 8%) and to vote (17 April 2023) in the municipal elections.
The electoral participation of foreign voters may also depend on the voting culture in their countries of origin, as well as the role and perceptions of municipalities in those countries - the municipalities play a particularly important role in Luxembourg.
As of 30 March 2023, some of the highest registration rates were recorded among nationals of Luxembourg's neighbouring countries (Germany: 24.9%; Belgium: 21.1%; France: 19.4%), as well as Dutch (26.9%) and Danish (22.4%) nationals. 18.1% of eligible Irish nationals and 14.9% of British residents had registered by that date.
Based on past years' experience, all things considered, there will be a surge in registrations this week. "It was always the three last days or the last week with the most registrations", noted Sylvain Besch. Indeed, there were just 40 registrations in July 2022 but this number has increased progressively each month as the deadline draws nearer, reaching 1,337 in January, 2,206 in February and 9,139 in March 2023. The fact that the Easter holidays directly preceded the deadline may disrupt this trend this year, although eligible voters can still register either online or in person by 17:00 on 17 April. "In principle, the absolute figure will go up," Mr Besch assured, adding that the registration rate would rise too, albeit less dramatically. He recalled that it will be up to the municipalities to prepare themselves for this surge and to ensure that those valid last-minute Guichet.lu registrations make it onto the electoral roll.