LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Luxemburgers have resoundingly rejected a proposal to let foreign residents vote in national elections, a move that would have been a first in Europe and could have expanded the electorate of the tiny but cosmopolitan Grand Duchy by as much as 50 percent.
In Sunday’s consultative referendum, only about 22 percent supported the proposal, part of a modernizing agenda backed by liberal Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
There were also clear majorities against lowering the voting age to 16 from 18 and introducing 10-year term limits for ministers, following the 19-year rule of Bettel’s conservative predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, now the EU’s chief executive.
Some 45 percent of Luxembourg’s 540,000 inhabitants are foreign, many of them Portuguese, and 150,000 workers commute in daily from Germany, France or Belgium, many to staff a financial sector that has supplanted the coal and steel industries.
The referendum asked whether foreigners who have lived in Luxembourg for 10 years and have exercised their existing right
to vote in municipal elections should also have the franchise
for national ballots.
Some 35,000 would have qualified, and that could have risen to over 100,000 if all those resident for a decade or more had registered and cast votes in local elections.
Bettel, whose marriage last month to another man gave the lie to lingering images of Luxembourg as provincial and conservative, had called for a “Yes” to all three questions.
The 42-year-old premier said he accepted the three firm ‘No’ responses and would withdraw the government’s proposals.
Nevertheless, he told the broadcaster RTL he hoped it would not be the last referendum on the issue, “and that it doesn’t take years until citizens get the possibility to help shape political decision-making”.
Dozens of business leaders had signed a newspaper advert this week describing votes for foreigners as “a unique opportunity for Luxembourg and no danger to Luxemburgers”.
However, the “No” camp proved more vocal, and more visible on social media. It was also backed by Juncker’s party, now in opposition though still the largest grouping in parliament, which said long-time foreign residents should instead seek Luxembourg citizenship.
European Union states offer other EU nationals a vote in
local polls and some give a say in national elections to certain
nationalities; Britain, for example, enfranchises citizens of
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Kevin Liffey