175 years ago, the people of Luxembourg fought for their first, liberal constitution. A short hop back into the country's history!
RTL Today has teamed up with PISA, the Luxembourgish science magazine, to reproduce their original videos in English for our site. Watch all English videos on RTL Play, or discover the wide range of subjects previously covered in Luxembourgish here (there are 13 seasons, mind you! We'll try and catch up).
Our previous episodes covered the history of the tram, Luxembourg airport, explained how the coronavirus vaccine works, asked why traffic lights always seem to be red, investigated where our tap water comes from, looked at Luxembourg's railways since 1859, took a dive into the Moselle Valley and its underground Dolomite mines and the history of Radio Luxembourg...
Fighting for civil rights
During the turbulent spring of 1848, Luxembourg saw its first constitution take shape. Following the examples of the Belgian and French Revolutions, Luxembourg's citizens also fought for their civil rights.
Luxembourg was still a young State at the time, which had just been divided at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg lost eastern territories to Prussia, but gained the status of a Grand Duchy, although be it without its own Grand Duke.
It was the Dutch King William I who became the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, ruling the country in union with the Netherlands. Luxembourg joined the German Federation, and the Prussian Federal Garrison was stationed at the fortress in Luxembourg City.
In 1830 the Belgian Revolution began. No longer wanting to be a part of the Netherlands, Belgium became its own State, infuriating King William I who eventually conceded in 1839. But this meant that Luxembourg lost another part of its territory - Belgium - and with this came a loss of industry. Unemployment and poverty led many people to emigrate.
The first constitution - rather fake?
Someone had to address the people's concerns: William II, who in 1840 became King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. One year later, in 1841, he granted Luxembourg its first constitution. This text was written by the King and Grand Duke himself and the original version is still kept in our national archives. While it did not alleviate the population's hunger, it did provide them with the first law. It was the first step in the direction of a modern State.
The constitution stated that only Luxembourgers could become civil servants, but it did not grant them universal suffrage, the right to assembly, or freedom of the press. There was still a lot of room for improvement.
It was pretty clear people demanded more social justice. For example, only wealthy men were allowed to vote. Similar to other countries, Luxembourgers demanded a minimum wage, limitations on working hours, the right to petition, free schools, freedom to assembly, and the right to vote. A lot of pressure was put on the government.
In late March 1848, William II agreed to a new constitution, but written by the bourgeoisie - in other words, rich men. This did not sit well with the population. There was civil unrest and protest around the country, leading to the first official constitution.
The first constitution was drafted within two months in Ettelbruck, but was ultimately voted on and signed on Place Guillaume II in what is now the City Hall. The constitution closely resembled the one in Belgium. The country received an official parliament. But still only rich men were allowed to vote.
Universal suffrage came into effect only in 1990. On 1 July 2023, the new Consitution was enshrined.
Image gallery: 175 years of the Luxembourg Constitution
A new constitution in 2023
The revised text includes a number of new features, with the main topics covering:
- The right to housing, the right to work, the safeguarding of biodiversity, the protection of cultural heritage and the recognition of animals as living beings endowed with sensitivity are among the new objectives with constitutional value.
- The text also introduces the right to found a family, the interest of the child, and the protection of personal data.
- Citizens can now propose a text of law.
- The Luxembourgish language , the "red white blue" flag , the state coat of arms and the national anthem ("Ons Heemecht") have all been given a place in the Constitution.
- The Constitution provides for the creation of the new National Council of Justice.
- The powers of the Chamber are strengthened, in particular through the introduction of a motion of confidence and a motion of censure with regard to the government. The Grand Duke may, in this case, call for early elections.
- Members' access to the right of inquiry is easier than before. An inquiry committee may now be set up if at least a third of MPs (20 out of 60) request it. Previously, committees could only be created at the request of more than half of MPs.
For a broader look at the new constitution, have a read here!