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Luxembourg referendum could give foreigners voting rights

luxembourg mapLuxembourg could blaze a trail in the EU when it votes Sunday on whether to grant full voting rights to foreigners who make up nearly half of the population, as part of an unprecedented triple referendum.

The voters in the tiny but wealthy duchy of 565,000 people will also be asked whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 and whether to limit the mandate of members of the government to 10 years.

They will be asked to vote “Jo” or “Nee” in Luxembourgish, “Oui” or “Non” in French and “Ja” or “Nein” in German.

The most important issue on the ballot would grant the right to vote to foreigners living in Luxembourg for more than 10n years, including the high number of Europeans, led by the Portuguese who account for 16.4 percent of the population.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel — a 42-year-old liberal who replaced current European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in 2013 — has campaigned for a “yes” vote as a way to modernise the nation and make it more democratic.

“There is no other European country where only 40 percent of the population elects its representatives,” Bettel told journalists. “At the next elections, four people out of ten will be able to say whether they’re satisfied with my policies or not.”

He added: “No other country in the world, except Dubai, hits our level of democratic deficit,” Bettel said.

– ‘Loss of influence’ –

Luxembourg is part of a growing trend for referendums in Europe, after recent examples in which Ireland voted to legalise gay marriage and Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom.

If the 244,382 eligible voters choose yes then Luxembourg would be the first EU nation to allow foreigners to vote in all the country’s elections.

It would also go the other direction from Britain which has said that it will not allow EU citizens to vote in its upcoming referendum on membership of the bloc.

Bettel has already been leading the charge for change in Luxembourg after he became the first EU leader to enter into a same-sex union when he married his gay partner last month.

After the Portuguese, the Grand Duchy is made up of French nationals (seven percent), Italians (3.5 percent), Belgians (3.3 percent) and Germans (2.3 percent).

Non-European foreigners — such as Cape Verdians, north Americans and Chinese — account for seven percent of the population.

But voting rights deeply divide Luxembourg’s population, many of whom fear losing even more influence to foreigners who already play a vital role in the highly open economy of the country sandwiched between France, Belgium and Germany.

Statec, the national institute of statistics, said 35,000 people could benefit from a new right to vote. EU nationals already take part in municipal and European elections there.

They could shake up the political landscape because they are younger than their Luxembourgish counterparts and are more likely to work in the private than in the public sector.

– Juncker’s party says ‘nee’ –

The issue divides even political parties.

Juncker’s main opposition CSV Christian Social party have campaigned for a “nee” vote — but the youth branch want a “jo” vote.

Major economic players and those in civil society have also stepped up calls for granting voting rights to foreigners, but with some conditions.

“All these people participate in the country’s well-being, contribute to its economic output and promote the cultural diversity that enriches this nation,” business leader Norbert Becker said.

Supporters of a “nee” vote argue that there is no reason to grant the right to vote to non-nationals, saying it exists nowhere else in Europe.

Becker retorted: “No country is made up of 46 percent foreign residents.”

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