I have to admit that I nearly choked on my boxemännchen when I read the all-but-confirmed list of ministers that the new Frieden-Bettel administration plans on putting in charge of the country.
When election night was edging closer to its conclusion and the devastating loss of The Greens made it apparent that the Christian Social People's Party (CSV) would lead the next government, it was almost immediately asserted that they were looking to team up with the Democratic Party (DP). And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it did not even take a full day for Luc Frieden to be appointed to form a new government and to announce the DP as their first-choice coalition partner.
Anticipation about who were to take over which ministerial roles naturally built right away. And looking at the field of possible candidates, I thought some choices obvious to the point that I was about to initiate a game of minister bingo at the office. That is how certain I was of which people would be most suited for certain positions.
But, far from it. Five weeks after the beginning of negotiations, the delegation leaders seem to have come to an agreement on how the future government is to operate. And boy oh boy, was I wrong.
The list is long, so I will just go over the most baffling ones in my opinion.
Housing, a losing issue
Both parties made it abundantly clear during negotiations that it was a meeting among equals, but we know of course that this is only true on paper. The CSV is the strongest party in Luxembourg and will therefore hold the office of Prime Minister, that naturally being Luc Frieden. Equally clear is that they pretty much had their pick of offices albeit having to throw a bone or two to the DP.
What I cannot possibly seem to understand then is why the strongest party would decide not to take over the most pressing issue in the Grand Duchy. You know what I am talking about, every single poll over the last five years shows that Luxembourgers are preoccupied with housing, and understandably so. An entire generation is currently looking at an impossible market with staggering demand and practically no affordable offers.
So, one would of course presume that the strongest governing party which, during the election campaign, promised to avert the impeding housing crisis, would take over this crucially important ministry. But no. And not only does the CSV refrain from taking over this office, no, they also hand it over to a person who is already running a ministry of significant importance, Claude Meisch, Luxembourg's much-criticised Minister of Education.
What?! You do not take on this challenging task yourself AND hand it over to someone who already has a full plate? I repeat: what?!
I already wrote about the predictable consequences that overburdening ministers can engender in a previous piece, and I would be surprised if we did not get to see another ministerial exodus over the course of this legislative period.
Frankly, the optics here are rather terrible. By not taking on housing and instead awarding responsibility to the DP, the CSV is sending a message that they consider it a losing issue right from the start. One they would rather have someone from their coalition 'partner' confront, knowing very well that this thankless task can end up swaying the electorate, as arguably evidenced by The Greens' poor 2023 election performance.
It now seems safe to presume that Frieden and the CSV do not have a strategy to avert the housing crisis, otherwise they would have taken over the ministry and be credited with saving the country.
Healthcare and the bane of being overqualified
Well, this one is almost as baffling as housing. Looking at the slate of candidates able to take over matters in the healthcare sector, which not least since the pandemic is one of the most important offices in the country, one would think that one person stands out as incredibly qualified and has to be the most logical choice.
The DP's Dr Gérard Schockmel – who studied and practiced medicine, worked in both foreign and domestic hospitals, and eventually became the people's infectious disease expert during the Covid-19 pandemic – probably has the most suitable resumé for the position any candidate has ever had here in Luxembourg. But perhaps he is simply overqualified, which ironically is usually a problem for the much younger generation looking for jobs these days.
With him in my mind, I cannot possible fathom how the conversation on healthcare unfolded during the coalition negotiations.
DP: Listen, we have this incredibly qualified candidate here and since the Health Ministry is not the most prestigious office, we thought it would be a good idea to give us responsibility in this domain.
CSV: Okay but hear me out, what if, and we're just spitballing here, we don't take this overly qualified person, but opt for someone who didn't even run in the elections, nor has a real track record in the healthcare sector?
DP: Lol yeah that totally makes sense, go for it!
Or something along these lines.
Because: the CSV has decided to nominate Martine Deprez as Minister of Health. As a member of the State Council, she certainly has her qualifications, and her experience in social security should probably also not be underestimated. But it is still baffling how someone with no hands-on background in healthcare is deemed more suitable for this particular job than a career physician.
But perhaps the CSV bets on another pandemic in the next five years and hopes for a repeat of the Lehnert popularity effect. Luc, do you know something we don't?
Time will tell
To end on a somewhat positive note, it should be acknowledged that some of the appointments make considerably more sense than the ones I have discussed so far. For instance, putting Léon Gloden in charge of the Ministry for Home Affairs. Given that this position is primarily based on regular interactions with municipal officials and administrations, it seems reasonable to ask an experienced mayor to take the reins there.
Similarly reasonable is putting Xavier Bettel in charge of foreign affairs. A logical choice, not least because Bettel is a popular figure in Europe and probably already on a first-name basis with most current state heads. With European-project champion Jean Asselborn out of the picture, it is reassuring to know that Luxembourg has another strong proponent of European values on the international stage.
Only time will tell how the new government will tackle the challenges ahead of them. I am certainly not predicting any failures here; I am merely voicing my astonishment over the choices made in the run-up to the swearing-in of this future administration. And I will more than welcome having all my doubts proven wrong. Until then, I will continue following the process closely.