Election season is in full flourish in Luxembourg. The campaigns are racing to the end of the period during which they’re allowed to do their work. But only Luxembourg citizens are allowed to vote. Should an expat take an interest in the process anyway?
Well, one answer is that they don’t. Expats in Luxembourg are frequently seen as living in a bubble. They live and work here, but they aren’t very interested in local politics and elections, most of all, leave many of them yawning. If it’s not about traffic conditions or parking issues, it just doesn’t interest them.
Even when they have the right to vote, as they do in municipal and European elections, most of them just don’t bother. In the last elections in 2017, only 22.8% of non-Luxembourg nationals bothered to register to vote.
Many say they just don’t know enough about the issues to vote. Learning about what’s going on is just part of your generalised “civic duty”. But many approach learning about this country as they do learning Luxembourgish (if you’re not British and desperate to retain your right to work). For many, it’s just too much effort for what they see as too limited a payoff, since, they argue, nobody speaks Luxembourgish outside of Luxembourg but it’s as hard as learning an international language. They'd rather keep on reading about goings-on in their home countries.
But there are plenty of good reasons to take advantage of any opportunity you’re given to have an impact on the system. There are many issues being debated which impact expats just as much as citizens.
While Luxembourgers massively—by 78.02%—rejected a referendum on allowing non-citizens to vote, and most expats can’t vote in this year’s national elections, there are plenty of other ways to have an impact.
There’s the good old writing a letter to the editor. You could join a group working on whatever your issue is. But Luxembourg also has a very potent public petitions process. You can set up a petition easily and submit it for approval. If it is, and the commission judging petitions has been very-open minded, you just need to convince 4,499 other residents to sign it. If you do, your petition is automatically given a hearing at the national legislature.
There are signs that expats and non-citizens more generally are very slowly opening themselves up to being engaged with this polity: From the 2011 local and European elections to the 2017 edition, 5,000 non-Luxembourgish electors added themselves to the registration lists.
Mike Gordon is a long-term Luxembourg expat (who votes whenever he can) currently employed as an editor at RTL Today.