© Tim Morizet / RTL
During a recent roundtable discussion hosted by RTL Radio on Saturday, the spotlight turned to Luxembourg's Northern constituency, with particular emphasis on healthcare and transportation issues.
In the Northern constituency, Luxembourg nationals can cast up to nine votes on 8 October. To delve into the dynamics of this constituency, RTL Radio convened six candidates on Saturday: Martine Hansen from the Christian Social People's Party (CSV), Mireille Folschette representing the Left Party (déi Lénk), Marc Hansen of the Democratic Party (DP), Claude Haagen from the Luxembourg Socialist Workers' Party (LSAP), Claude Turmes of the Green Party (déi Gréng), and Roy Holzem from the Conservatives (déi Konservativ), who, notably, is not contesting in the North but appears on a list in the South.
Balancing growth and village character
The participants agreed that maintaining the rural character of the North while improving connectivity among villages and ensuring robust infrastructure is a pressing challenge. As more people are moving to the northern region, municipalities must adapt to provide essential services, stressed Martine Hansen of the CSV. She further underscored that the North had felt neglected during the last municipal finance reform, with less densely populated municipalities facing significant setbacks in financial allocations.
Claude Haagen of the LSAP advocated for the development of flagship projects to counter rural impoverishment. However, he also highlighted the necessity of allocating financial resources to municipalities to undertake substantial initiatives.
Marc Hansen of the DP highlighted the role of job creation in alleviating traffic congestion toward Luxembourg City while simultaneously attracting businesses to the region. The Left Party proposed reduced working hours as a means to curb traffic, with candidate Mireille Folschette arguing that flexible schedules could lead to reduced traffic volumes.
Recognising the importance of agriculture in the North, the Green Party suggested integrating this industry more effectively into daily life. A concrete proposal involved getting school canteens on board, a move that would not only ensure better prices for farmers due to increased demand but also allow students to enjoy locally sourced products, as outlined by Claude Turmes.
Mobility: A four-Lane A7?
In the realm of mobility, the discourse underscored the necessity of a harmonious coexistence of various transportation modes. Marc Hansen of the DP stressed that while cars should not be "vilified," it is also unrealistic to expect bus frequencies akin to Luxembourg City in the northern regions, where the majority still relies on personal vehicles.
The expansion of the A7 motorway found prominence in the discussion, with Claude Turmes highglighting Minister for Mobility François Bausch's initiative in this regard. However, the debate leaned towards supporting a four-lane expansion, not merely three, with Martine Hansen of the CSV leading the charge. She contended that this would enhance traffic flow. According to Martine Hansen, such a move is essential to avoid disadvantaging the majority of northern residents who depend on cars.
Martine Hansen cited challenges faced by northern residents, including unreliable public transport services and the reduced kilometre allowance imposed in 2013, which has remained unchanged despite fluctuations in fuel prices. To address these concerns, the CSV proposes the expanding the train line to the north to two tracks.
However, Claude Haagen of the LSAP cautioned against unrealistic expectations, asserting that rail construction would not materialise within the next five or six years. Haagen also expressed concerns about the potential creation of "dormitory towns" as a result of the numerous bypasses that are currently planned or under construction, a development that could further erode village activities and businesses. He stressed the importance of holistic infrastructure planning to bolster villages in the long run.
Claude Turmes from the Green Party concurred with the LSAP, underlining the need to integrate urban planning with mobility considerations. Turmes, however, contended that this approach had seen more progress in the last decade than during a CSV government. Martine Hansen countered this assertion, highlighting that the A7 had originally been planned during Claude Wiseler's tenure as Minister for Mobility.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives voiced concern over excessive planning and analysis, which they argued can sometimes outstrip project costs, according to Roy Holzem, the candidate from the south. Holzem also advocated for the construction of a monorail system, claiming that it could shorten travel times from Wiltz to Luxembourg City to a mere "three to four minutes."
In addition to trains and cars, the Left Party pushed for the expansion of the "bus on demand" system, a proposal generally welcomed by all guests who deemed it vital for ensuring reliable public transport in rural areas.
Improving healthcare in the Northern region
Calls for bolstering healthcare services in the Northern region have gained prominence, with the CSV advocating for the reinforcement of hospitals in Wiltz and Ettelbruck. The CSV also emphasises the need for expanding services dedicated to children. As the Northern population has experienced substantial growth in recent years, Martine Hansen underscored the importance of reevaluating hospital planning strategies. Martine Hansen contended that paediatric centres are imperative to enhance the quality of life, reducing the burden on parents who would otherwise have to travel long distances with their sick children. Additionally, Martine Hansen called for the establishment of a second SAMU medical team in the North.
Marc Hansen of the DP echoes the sentiment, stressing the need to move away from the notion that all medical services must be centralised in one location. The DP suggests focusing on improving outpatient services and decentralising services that do not necessitate a hospital setting. Strengthening hospitals remains a priority for both the DP and the CSV, particularly in Wiltz and Ettelbruck.
Efforts are already underway, with the National Health Directorate and the Social Security working towards offering radiotherapy services in the North, as explained by Claude Haagen of the LSAP. Criticism has notably arisen regarding the fact that cancer patients regularly have to travel to the Centre Hospitalier Emile Mayrisch (CHEM) in Esch-sur-Alzette for radiation treatment. Haagen also pointed out the imminent arrival of an MRI scanner at the Wiltz hospital in December, along with the "Schlasskéier" project that has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies.
Claude Turmes of the Green Party notes the progress made in recent years, highlighting the presence of three MRI scanners in the North and the establishment of a second out-of-hours medical centre in Wiltz. Municipalities have played a significant role in facilitating the setup of new community medical practices, Turmes added. Nevertheless, the absence of youth psychiatry remains a concern, particularly in the post-Covid-19 landscape, where such services are deemed essential, he acknowledged.
The politicians all agreed that there is a need for increased investment in the Northern region to improve healthcare services.