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.)