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Freedom in the World 2011 - Luxembourg

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 12 May 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Luxembourg, 12 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dcbf5162f.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Luxembourg
Population: 498,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Overview

Discussions in Luxembourg's legislature over liberalizing the country's abortion law continued in 2010 after the government said current penalties for unapproved abortions would remain in place. Several strikes by publicly employed doctors took place in October and November over government-sponsored austerity measures.


The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was established in 1815 after the Napoleonic wars. Following a brief merger with Belgium, it acquired its current borders in 1839. The country was occupied by Germany during both world wars, and it abandoned neutrality to join NATO in 1949. Luxembourg became a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, a precursor to the European Union (EU); it adopted the euro currency in 1999.

After falling in public opinion polls in 2003, the center-right Democratic Party (DP) performed poorly in June 2004 general elections. The opposition Socialist Workers' Party of Luxembourg (LSAP) replaced the DP as the junior coalition partner of Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's Christian Social Party (CSV).

In the June 2009 parliamentary elections, the CSV gained 2 seats for a total of 26, and the LSAP lost 1 seat for a total of 13. The DP followed with 9 seats, the Green Party with 7, the Action Committee for Democracy and Pension Justice with 4, and the Left alliance with 1. Juncker remained prime minister for the 15th consecutive year – the longest tenure of any EU head of government – and formed a coalition government with the LSAP in July. That same month, Juncker resigned from his dual role as finance minister, but continued as treasury minister and chairman of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers until the end of his term in December 2010.

Luxembourg has been criticized for its bank secrecy rules, especially following the economic crisis that struck in late 2008. After being placed on the Organization for Economic Cooperation's (OECD) tax-haven grey list in 2009, Luxembourg agreed to follow OECD rules and share banking information when clear evidence of tax evasion exists. Luxembourg was removed from the grey list before the end of 2009 after signing several agreements regarding the sharing of tax information.

Luxembourg struggled with continued financial hardship in 2009 as the country experienced a 3.5 percent contraction in gross domestic product (GDP) during the year. However, the economy expanded again in 2010 with an estimated GDP growth rate of 3.2 percent. The budget deficit rose from just 0.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to a high of 2.2 percent in 2010, raising concerns. The government has proposed some austerity measures to reduce the deficit for 2011, generating tension within the governing coalition and touching off strikes within the publically funded healthcare system.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Luxembourgis an electoral democracy. The head of state is the unelected Grand Duke Henri, whose powers are largely ceremonial. The unicameral legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, consists of 60 members elected by proportional representation to five-year terms. Following a 2008 constitutional amendment, the Chamber no longer requires the Grand Duke's approval to pass bills into law. The legislature chooses the prime minister. Voting is compulsory for Luxembourg's citizens. Citizens of EU countries may vote in local and European elections in Luxembourg after six years' residency but are not required to do so; residents from non-EU countries may not vote. Foreigners constitute over a third of Luxembourg's population.

The political system is open to the rise of new parties. There are three traditionally strong parties: the CSV, historically aligned with the Catholic Church; the LSAP, a formerly radical but now center-left party representing the working class; and the DP, which favors free-market economic policies.

The government is largely free from corruption. Luxembourg was ranked 11 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution, and Luxembourg maintains a vibrant media environment. A single conglomerate, Radio Télévision Luxembourg (RTL), dominates broadcast radio and television, and its programming remains popular in neighboring countries. Newspapers generally represent a broad range of opinion. However, in May 2009, the police searched the offices of the weekly Portuguese-language newspaper Contacto and confiscated a journalist's computer files and notes. The journalist had recently published an article criticizing a social worker's handling of a child custody case, leading the social worker file defamation and libel charges against the Contacto reporter. While the police had reportedly breached Luxembourg law by failing to notify the press council before the search, an appeals court ruled in September 2009 that the police had done nothing wrong. Internet access is not restricted.

Although Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, there is no state religion, and the state pays the salaries of clergy from a variety of sects. School children may choose to study either the Roman Catholic religion or ethics; most choose the former. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedoms of assembly and association are protected. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations operate freely. Luxembourgers may organize in trade unions, and approximately half of the workforce is unionized. The right to strike is constitutionally guaranteed. Several unions held protests in September 2010 after the government announced austerity reforms to the child and educational subsidy policy. In October 2010, doctors working for the public health system went on strike over reforms meant to reduce government expenditures in the healthcare sector; talks between the government, doctors, and other healthcare workers reached a resolution in November, and the legislature passed the reform bill in December.

The judiciary is independent, though judges are still appointed by the grand duke. Detainees are treated humanely in police stations and prisons. However, overcrowding has been reported at the main prison in Schrassig. In March, the justice minister announced the construction of a new, 400-bed facility to house inmates imprisoned on drug charges, a group which constitutes half of the prisoners in Schrassig.

Luxembourg's Muslim minority, mainly of Bosnian origin, faces no official hostility.

Women comprise nearly 50 percent of the labor force, and the gap between men's and women's wages is about 15 percent. Women are underrepresented in the highest levels of government; 15 women currently serve in the 60-member parliament, and only 4 hold seats in the 15-member cabinet. While the law does not technically allow for abortion on demand, women can legally have abortions if in "distress," and "distress" is interpreted liberally. In 2010, the legislature began discussions to liberalize Luxembourg's abortion law, but while the proposed legislation would allow abortions in a greater number of situations, it maintains current penalties for having unapproved abortions. In December, Luxembourg's Consultative Committee on Human Rights reviewed the government's draft law and expressed concerns regarding several provisions, including a residency restriction that would require women to have lived in Luxembourg for at least three months before obtaining an abortion. In November 2010, two Albanian men were convicted of trafficking women for prostitution and sentenced to three and four years in prison respectively.


* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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