Luxembourg shifts leftwards

Compared to Germany and Austria, Luxembourg’s process of forming a new government has been downright speedy. The election was on 20 October, and new prime minister Xavier Bettel was sworn in on Wednesday, six and a half weeks later.

The governing coalition consists of Bettel’s Democratic Party (liberals), the Socialists and the Greens. Between them, the three parties have 32 seats in the 60-seat parliament. The Socialists actually won more votes than the liberals, but as the leader of the more centrist force Bettel got the nod to lead the government. Socialist Etienne Schneider becomes deputy prime minister.

The new government represents a number of firsts; it’s the first time Luxembourg’s Greens have been in government, and it’s apparently the first time anywhere that two openly gay men have led a government. But it’s also the first time since 1979 that the centre-right has been out of office in Luxembourg.

Outgoing prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker had been in power for almost 19 years, but a spy scandal in July forced him to call early elections. Although his Christian Social People’s Party remained the largest party in parliament, it lost sufficient ground for his opponents to be able to put together a majority without him.

It’s another step forward for the European left, which continues to make discernible if uneven progress. But it’s also a good sign for the continent’s liberals, offsetting in some small measure their disastrous showing in the German election.

Perhaps most of all, it’s a lesson in being careful about reporting election results. Deutsche Welle, with hindsight, is now able to say that Bettel “emerged as winner of snap elections in October.” But at the time, the BBC reported uncritically that Juncker had “won” the election, apparently unable to understand that 23 seats out of 60 does not bring with it an entitlement to govern.

For the leader of a very small country, Juncker has been a major European statesman. But such a long period of one-party domination is never desirable, so it’s good to see Luxembourg trying something different.

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