It’s a very embarrassing position for Juncker, because he only took office as the president of the European Commission a few days ago, and he’ll take some perhaps well-deserved political heat for the matter, and it probably reduces his credibility on tax reform matters.
Everyone has, in the back of their minds, the example of the Santer Commission, which resigned en masse in 1999 over corruption. For now, the revelations do not appear to implicate Juncker in anything more than the kind of aggressive steps that state leaders sometimes take to attract foreign development and investment. If, for example, Juncker was found to have taken personal kickbacks in exchange for favorable treatment, it would be a much more serious allegation for himself, for the Commission, and for confidence in Luxembourg’s institutions. But there’s no evidence of that.
Meanwhile, the Commission is a professional regulatory body, and any investigations into Amazon or other companies that received state aid in potential violation of European law will be conducted by Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner for competition, who is a former minister of economic affairs and deputy prime minister. It’s helpful, from an ideological perspective, that Vestager comes from the Danish Social Liberal Party, which should give some comfort to the European Parliament’s leftists. Ultimately, this is less a ‘scandal’ than a valid policy issue, insofar as Luxembourg and other countries have long pushed the envelope in making their jurisdictions extremely favorable to international companies. Note the Irish government’s decision last month to revise the ‘double Irish’ structure so common in the taxation of intellectual property assets. So as the Commission and other EU (and even international) institutions look into these decisions, it will help clarify the line between permissible and impermissible in the future.
Marine Le Pen is hardly the best critic on the matter, because her party has long been in favor of lowering taxes and promoting the kind of economic nationalist steps that Luxembourg’s officials may have taken with many international companies. Her call for Juncker’s resignation isn’t credible, but it’s very important for her to maximize support among the eurosceptic French right if she’s going to have any credible shot at winning the French presidency in 2017, a task made much more difficult by the return of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Nearly a week after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, on at least two levels — the consequences of the historic level of eurosceptic parties elected across Europe and in terms of the growing battle between the European Parliament and the European Council over electing the next European Commission president.
In the first part of a Suffragio series examining the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, I focused on the five most populous countries in the European Union: the United Kingdom and France, where eurosceptic parties won the greatest share of the vote; Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel won another strong victory; Italy, where prime minister Matteo Renzi won a near-landslide mandate just three months into his premiership; and Spain, where both traditional parties lost support to a growing constellation of anti-austerity movements — so much so that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Spain’s traditional center-left party, resigned.
In the second part, I examined the results in nine more countries — Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.
In the third and final part, I examine the results in the remaining 14 countries of the European Union. Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)
The three parties that finished in second, third and fourth place, respectively, in Luxembourg’s October 20 election will begin coalition talks, which could bring to an end the 18-year premiership of Jean-Claude Juncker, thereby elevating the current mayor of Luxembourg City, Xavier Bettel as Luxembourg’s next prime minister — and the country’s first openly gay prime minister.
Bettel’s party, the liberal Demokratesch Partei (DP, Democratic Party), made gains in the weekend’s election at the expense of Juncker’s center-right Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei (CSV, Christian Social People’s Party) and Juncker’s previous coalition partner, the center-left Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Arbechterpartei (LSAP, Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party).
The CSV still won more votes than any other party (as it has in every postwar Luxembourgish election except 1964). But by banding together, the LSAP, the Democrats and the Gréng (the Greens) would make history by giving Luxembourg its first so-called ‘Gambia’ coalition, named after the three colors of the Gambian flag — green, red (LSAP) and blue (Democrats). Together, the three parties hold 32 seats (each of the LSAP and the Democrats won 13 seats, while the Greens have six) in the 60-member D’Chamber (Chamber of Deputies), Luxembourg’s unicameral parliament.
But Luxembourg’s snap elections came about only because the LSAP refused to support Juncker in a key vote earlier this summer related to a scandal involving the country’s intelligence service, the Service de renseignement de l’Etat luxembourgeois (SREL). Though Juncker wasn’t directly responsible for the SREL’s misdeeds, which included illegal surveillance of domestic groups within Luxembourg, he was determined to be politically liable for the oversight of the SREL, which even allegedly recorded a telephone conversation between Juncker and Luxembourg’s grand prince Henri. Rather than face the humiliation of losing a vote of no confidence, Juncker instead resigned in July and called for snap elections.
Bettel, who leads the Democrats, already has a strong working relationship with the Greens and their leader, François Bausch, due to their cooperation governing Luxembourg City, the small duchy’s capital. In preliminary discussions, LSAP leader Etienne Schneider (pictured above, center, with Bettel right and Bausch right) agreed that Bettel would lead any ‘Gambia’ coalition government.
The next step would be for grand duke Henri to formally invite Bettel to become the formateur of a new government at a meeting on Friday afternoon. Thereupon, it would be up to Bettel to bring together the three parties in crafting an agenda to govern Luxembourg.
Though the three parties lie on different points of the ideological spectrum, their government would represent a massive change from decades of center-right CSV rule under Juncker and his predecessors Jacques Santer and Pierre Werner. Bringing a new party — and a new generation of leadership — into power in Luxembourg could in itself mark a welcome rupture, breathing fresh ideas into Luxembourg’s government and turning the page from the SREL scandal, the roots of which go back to the 1980s.
Moreover, all three parties are more socially liberal than the CSV, which could result in looser abortion laws and could also clear the way for the recognition of same-sex marriage. Though Juncker personally supports marriage equality and had been pushing for a vote on a marriage equality bill before calling snap elections, it remains contentious within the CSV. A Bettel-led government would almost certainly pick up the legislative fight where Juncker left off.
The three parties might also find common ground on wage indexing and measures to curb unemployment. While Luxembourg has one of the wealthiest and strongest economies within the eurozone, the country’s unemployment ticked up from around 5% a year ago to 5.8%, as of August.
It would also make Bettel, at age 40, one of a growing number of Europe’s young vanguard of leaders, alongside Italian prime minister Enrico Letta (age 47), British prime minister David Cameron (age 47) and Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen (age 42). Bettel would also become the third openly gay head of government in Europe (after Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo and former Icelandic prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir).
Despite having lost nearly 5% from the result of the previous 2009 elections, Juncker’s center-right Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei (CSV, Christian Social People’s Party) still finished with more support than any other party, entitling it to 23 seats in Luxembourg’s 60-member unicameral parliament, the D’Chamber (Chamber of Deputies), a loss of three seats:
“I am satisfied with the results as far as my party remains the number one party in Luxembourg, with a huge distance between my party and the two other main political parties,” Mr Juncker said.
“We should be entitled to form the next government.” But he said it was too early to begin coalition talks.
Its coalition partner between 2004 and 2013, the center-left Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Arbechterpartei (LSAP, Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party), finished in second place, winning the same number as seats as it had previously (13), despite the fact that its support declined, especially in its stronghold in the south of the country.
But the third-place liberal Demokratesch Partei (DP, Democratic Party) also won 13 seats, a four-seat gain that makes it the clear winner, in terms of momentum, in Sunday’s election.
While the Democrats may have hoped for even more seats, the party made the starkest gains in Sunday’s election and that its leader, Luxembourg City mayor Xavier Bettel, is a rising star in Luxembourgish politics. Though Bettel may not have won enough seats to make a play to become prime minister, he’s young enough (40) that he now stands a strong chance of making further gains in the next set of Luxembourgish elections.
Moreover, while Juncker may well return into a governing coalition with the LSAP, it was the LSAP’s refusal to back Juncker in a key vote over the summer over a scandal involving illegal domestic surveillance within Luxembourg’s secret service, which led to Juncker’s resignation and Luxembourg’s first snap elections in decades. Though Juncker wasn’t directly involved in the scandal, a parliamentary inquiry found that he shared political responsibility for failing to adequately oversee the secret service and intelligence agency. Despite the scandal, however, it wasn’t expected that the CSV would forfeit its dominance within Luxembourgish politics, though polls predicted slight losses for Juncker and his coalition partner, the LSAP.
Juncker has served as prime minister since 1995 and, between 1989 and 2009, also served as Luxembourg’s finance minister.
Given that the Democrats were the clear winners in Sunday’s vote, there’s a chance that Juncker could turn to the Democrats to join his government (as Juncker did between 1999 and 2004), putting Bettel even more clearly on the path as Juncker’s heir apparent.
LSAP leader Etienne Schneider hinted as much after Sunday’s votes were counted:
Schneider commented that another LSAP and CSV coalition would not necessarily be the most democratic, since it would exclude the party with the biggest gain in voter trust.
There’s also a small possibility of a so-called ‘Gambia’ coalition (named after the three colors of Gambia’s flag) among the LSAP (red), the Democrats (blue) and the Déi Gréng (the Greens), who won six seats. Together, the three parties won 32 seats, an absolute majority, though it seems unlikely that Luxembourg’s next government would exclude Juncker’s top-polling party.
Though Juncker downplayed his interest throughout the campaign, he has been discussed as a potential candidate for the presidency of either the European Council or the European Commission, both of which will be vacant next year. Christine Lagarde’s current term as managing director of the International Monetary Fund will end in 2016 — as the first chair of the Eurogroup, the group of eurozone finance ministers, Juncker has already played a key role in setting European Union monetary and financial policy, following in the long tradition of Luxembourgish leadership at the European level.
In addition to the other four major parties, the centrist Alternativ Demokratesch Reformpartei (Alternative Democratic Reform Party) won three seats and the far-left Déi Lénk won two seats:
Xavier Bettel may not win this weekend’s parliamentary elections in Luxembourg, but he’s likely to lead his party to significant gains, putting him in line as the heir apparent to the small European country’s long-time prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker.
Sure, that may not be the most world-shattering event in world politics — with about 538,000 people, Luxembourg has about one-fourteenth the population of Hong Kong. But given the chief role that Juncker has played in steering eurozone policy, it’s worth keeping an eye on the top up-and-coming Luxembourgish leaders — every Luxembourgish prime minister since 1953 has played a crucial role in the European integration process.
So as a new generation of Luxembourgish politicians come to the fore, it’s not difficult to envision that they could play a starring role in European-wide policymaking later this decade and in the 2020s.
Enter Bettel, exit Juncker?
No Luxembourgish politician has emerged quite as forcefully as Bettel (pictured above), who during the campaign has emerged as Juncker’s chief rival.
A 40-year-old openly gay attorney, Bettel joined parliament in 1999, when the Democrats governed as the junior partner of a coalition with Juncker’s CSV. Bettel was also elected to Luxembourg City’s communial council in 1999 and subsequently as mayor in October 2011, becoming the youngest mayor of any European capital, rising quickly to prominence, with a favorability rating higher than Juncker’s.
Bettel and his liberal Demokratesch Partei (DP, Democratic Party) are expected to make gains in Sunday’s election, though perhaps not enough gains to take over government.
Juncker was somewhat tarnished earlier this year with the revelation of abuses committed by the Service de renseignement de l’Etat luxembourgeois (SREL), the secret service and intelligence agency of Luxembourg. The abuses include illegal wiretapping, surveillance of domestic political groups and other crimes that stretch back to the 1980s. Although Juncker isn’t directly implicated in any of the abuses, a parliamentary inquiry found that he shared ‘political responsibility’ for the SREL’s bad behavior by neglecting to oversee the SREL with adequate oversight. Perhaps more damaging than the official scolding is the more unshakeable sense that Juncker is perceived to have spent too much time on eurozone policy and not enough time governing his own country.
Facing a vote of no confidence in Luxembourg’s unicameral parliament, D’Chamber (Chamber of Deputies), Juncker resigned and called early elections for October 20.
The Democrats’ campaign hasn’t been incredibly subtle — it’s running on the platform of a ‘new beginning’ for Luxembourg, with ‘new ideas and new leaders.’ Bettel himself has criticized the slow pace of the Juncker government’s approach to reform.
While there’s not an incredible amount of polling data for Luxembourg, it shows that Junker can expect losses for his dominant center-right Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei (CSV, Christian Social People’s Party), which has won the greatest share of votes in all but one (1964) postwar Luxembourgish general election.
Juncker’s CSV has governed in coalition for the past decade with the center-left Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Arbechterpartei (LSAP, Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party), but the LSAP’s refusal to support Juncker over the secret service scandal precipitated this weekend’s early elections. Continue reading Who is Xavier Bettel? (Maybe Luxembourg’s next prime minister.)
An astounding scandal in Luxembourg is bringing to light the unfettered abuses of the small country’s secret service and, though its longtime prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker has disclaimed knowledge of the worst abuses, the debate over whether Juncker shares ‘political responsibility’ for the misdeeds has potentially ended Juncker’s remarkable three decades of domestic political dominance — Juncker has announced that his government will resign tomorrow in order to bring forward general elections that were originally expected next spring.
After facing a spectacular loss in a vote of no confidence from both his opponents and coalition allies in Luxembourg’s parliament, the D’Chamber (Chamber of Deputies), Juncker agreed to call early elections as soon as October. Despite speculation that Juncker might resign as prime minister today during his parliamentary testimony over oversight — or lack thereof — of Luxembourg’s secret service and intelligence scandal, he instead challenged his opponents to bring his government down when his coalition partners balked at Juncker’s testimony disclaiming direct responsibility for the abuses, detailed in a parliamentary report presented last Friday. Only after facing certain defeat in a no-confidence vote did Juncker acquiesce to his government’s resignation, and he has not indicated that he hopes to step away from the premiership permanently.
That means Juncker (pictured above), until earlier this year the president of the Eurogroup, may well lead his longtime dominant Chrëschtlech Sozial Vollekspartei (CSV, Christian Social People’s Party) in the next elections, but he will do so from a position of uncharacteristic weakness. An ignominious fall from power could endanger his hopes to succeed current EC president José Manuel Barroso in October 2014 when Barroso’s decade leading the Commission is set to expire.
So what is it that has turned Luxembourg upside down?
As Luxembourgian commentator Jerry Weyer explained earlier this year at his blog (his live updates of today’s parliamentary hearing on Twitter have been incredibly insightful), the scandal focuses on the role of the Service de renseignement de l’Etat luxembourgeois (SREL), the secret service / intelligence agency of Luxembourg. SREL has been up to quite a bit of mischief in Luxembourg, including illegal wiretapping and surveillance of various groups ranging from leftist and green political activists to suspected Islamic terrorists. It has also been alleged to have tried to blackmail homosexual individuals and involved in cover-up operations related to the investigation of the ‘Bommeleeër’ inquiry into a mysterious 1984 terrorist bomb attack in Luxembourg.
The scandal hit headlines late last year when it was revealed that an SREL official illegally recorded a conversation between Juncker and Luxembourg’s grand duke, Henri. That revelation led to further disclosures about SREL abuses of power over the years and to increasingly sharp questions about why Juncker continued to protect the SREL from public inquiry, even when it became clear that he knew about its transgressions (such as, for example, the SREL’s illegal taping of Juncker’s own private conversations). Furthermore, as Juncker has claimed he was unaware of additional abuses, he’s faced tough questions about whether he was too focused on European governance to provide adequate leadership in Luxembourg.
Given that Juncker has been in office since 1995 — five years longer than Grand Duke Henri has served as Luxembourg’s head of state — it has been nearly inconceivable to think about what a post-Juncker Luxembourg might mean, but it’s quickly something that’s become a reality as rivals to Juncker within both the opposition and within his own coalition start to vie for position as Juncker’s position has become increasingly untenable.
Some background is in order — after all, Luxembourg isn’t necessarily the most familiar country to U.S. audiences — or even European audiences who are much more familiar with Juncker’s role with respect to the Eurogroup and the eurozone.
Luxembourg, the tiny grand duchy (the world’s only existing 21st century grand duchy) nudged to the south of Belgium, to the west of Germany and to the northeast of France, is home to just under 550,000 citizens, making it the second-smallest European Union member after Malta in both terms of population and area. Its European pedigree, however, is undisputed — it was one of the six founders of the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s that served as the forerunner to the European Union. As a small European country where French and German are both official languages alongside the native Luxembourgish, it has long served an important role smoothing relations between its two neighbors, which have historically served as the twin engines of EU growth and reform.
Consistently pro-European, Luxembourg’s voters approved the ill-fated European constitution in July 2005 with 56% in support of the constitution — and in support of Juncker, who pledged to resign if Luxembourgers opposed the effort — just weeks after two failed referenda in France and the Netherlands.
Juncker’s predecessor and mentor, Jacques Santer, Luxembourg’s prime minister from 1984 to 1995, served as president of the European Commission from 1995 to 1999. Santer played a key role in negotiating the Single European Act of 1986 that fully brought the European single market into effect. Santer, along with every other member of the European Commission, resigned en masse in 1999 over corruption among a handful of European commissioners, though Santer himself was never implicated directly with wrongdoing.
Before assuming the premiership from Santer, Juncker previously served as minister of labour from 1984 to 1989 and as finance minister from 1989 throughout the next two decades. In fact, Juncker continued to serve simultaneously as finance minister, prime minister and Eurogroup president until 2009, when Juncker’s CSV colleague, his longtime justice minister Luc Frieden, was appointed finance minister. In his role as Santer’s finance minister, Juncker became one of the chief architects of the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht and the single currency that Maastricht brought into being. More recently, Juncker was instrumental in formalizing the role of the Eurogroup, the group of finance ministers from each member of the eurozone, and he served as the first Eurogroup president from 2005 until earlier this year, when Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem was chosen to replace Juncker.
It’s not an exaggeration to argue that no one in European policymaking circles today has more experience and responsibility for the creation, rollout and enactment of the single currency than Juncker, and he played a crucial role in more recent debates over European bailouts for beleaguered Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
From an initial industrial economy based largely on steel production after World War II, Luxembourg has developed a modern, post-industrial economy that depends in large part on financial services today. With a GDP per capita of nearly $80,000, the tiny nation is by far the richest in the European Union. That hasn’t protected Luxembourg from the broader economic trends that have swept the eurozone — it’s notched only tepid GDP growth since an initial contraction in 2009, though GDP contracted by 1.6% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2013 and unemployment has edged up to nearly 7%.
Its head of state, Grand Duke Henri, is essentially a figurehead, especially after the Luxembourgian parliament clarified that the Grand Duke’s signature is not necessary to enact laws after Henri controversially announced that he would not sign a 2008 law regarding euthanasia.
Juncker’s center-right, Christian democratic CSV has long dominated Luxembourgian politics, and all but one of Luxembourg’s prime ministers have come from the CSV since World War II. The CSV controls 26 of the 60 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and during Juncker’s time in office, the CSV has formed governing coalitions with each of its chief rivals, the center-left, social democratic Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Arbechterpartei (LSAP, Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party) and the center-right, liberal Demokratesch Partei (DP, Democratic Party). While that has perhaps led to an extraordinary amount of continuity within Luxembourg’s government, critics charge that the CSV’s political hegemony has led to a cozy environment where SREL misdeeds and other abuses have gone unpunished.
Though it’s been the CSV’s coalition partner for the past decade, it is the LSAP that has brought about early elections by threatening to bring down the government with a vote of no confidence. Its leader Alex Bodry announced last Friday that the party would push for either Juncker’s resignation or fresh elections.
While the LSAP currently holds 13 seats, the Democratic Party holds nine seats and it’s currently the largest party sitting in opposition, though it has joined the CSV in government between 1999 and 2004. Its president, Xavier Bettel, also the mayor of Luxembourg City, has taken just as critical a line against Juncker, accusing the prime minister of having failed to bring SREL misdeeds to light for public inquiry. Bettel and the Democratic Party are especially well-placed to succeed in the next elections. A poll earlier this spring showed that the young, openly gay Bettel is now more popular than Juncker, though the CSV continues to widely outpace the LSAP and the Democrats, though that could change if Luxembourgian voters want to punish Juncker — for the SREL abuses or more broadly for the sluggish economy.
Three smaller parties also sit in opposition: Luxembourg’s Déi Gréng (Greens) hold seven seats; a nationalist conservative party, the Alternativ Demokratesch Reformpartei (Alternative Democratic Reform Party) holds four seats; and the far-left Déi Lénk (The Left) holds just one seat.