Luxembourg loses a prime minister

It’s looking like a good year for spy scandals. We’ve had Edward Snowden and his search for asylum after blowing the whistle on American surveillance practices. We’ve had the Czech prime minister forced to resign after his mistress was caught using the security services to spy on his wife. And now Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker has become another casualty.

In office since 1995, Juncker is the longest-serving elected head of government in the world (although remarkably enough he is still only in his 50s). Yesterday he announced he was resigning and calling an early election after his junior coalition partners refused to support him over a report into problems with the country’s security agency, SERL.

According to the BBC, the report “included claims of illegal bugging of politicians, the purchase of cars for private use and payments in exchange for access to local officials.” Juncker is not personally implicated, but was criticised for having given SERL inadequate supervision, concentrating more on the economic troubles of the eurozone.

So although one’s image of Luxembourg is as a quaint, medieval sort of place (it’s the second-smallest country in the European Union, and the only country with a Grand Duke as head of state), it turns out to have much the same sort of problems as the rest of the developed world.

It also has a similar party system to that found elsewhere in Europe. There are three main parties: Juncker’s Christian Social People’s Party (centre-right), the Socialists (centre-left) and the Democratic Party (liberals). Also represented in parliament are the Greens, the ADR (a more eurosceptic centre-right party) and a single Left MP. The centre-right is traditionally dominant, and generally just has to draw one of the others into coalition to form a majority – for the last two terms it has been the Socialists.

It appears, however, that the Socialists have been discontented for some time and keen on an early election (otherwise due next May). The report in Le Figaro says they were reluctant to openly orchestrate the fall of the government, but when the Socialist Party president invited the prime minister to take “full political responsibility” for the scandal it was clear that he could not rely on its support on a censure motion. Rather than take the risk, he chose to go to the polls.

The election will probably not take place for a couple of months. It’s not yet clear whether Juncker will again lead his party or give way to a new contender. Le Figaro’s reporter says that internal rivals are “struggling to emerge” and comments that for Juncker “a fake exit could be a springboard to a real re-election.”

But if the general European swing to the left holds up in Luxembourg as well then the centre-right may emerge in a much less dominant position.

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